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Interview of Emanuel Piore by Bruce Wheaton on 1977 March 7,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4823
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Piore's involvement in science research policies; establishment of the Office of Naval Research and its relationship with institutions such as the National Science Foundation, National Science Board, Atomic Energy Commission, and the President's Science Advisory Committee; funding of large-scale research (SLAC and other accelerator centers). Education, from high school (Ethical Culture Society, New York City) and college years at University of Wisconsin (Ph.D. in physics, 1935). Career at Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 1935-1942; work at Bureau of Ships during World War II, involving radar research, conventional weapons development, use of the atomic bomb, and early Russian space research. Also mentioned at length are: John Van Vleck, Raymond Herb, Ralph H. Fowler, Robert Serber, and Fritz Zworykin.
Today is Monday, the seventh of March 1977. I am Bruce Wheaton, and with me in his Rockefeller University office is Dr. Emanuel Piore.
We can go back later what I did before the war.
At some point I would like to discuss your early education.
Why don't I do it very quickly. You can then decide.
You were born in Russia? Is that correct?
I was born in Vilna, a city of 500,000, the ancient capital of Lithuania. At that time it was part of Russia. It is now again part of Russia. I attended the University of Wisconsin. My high school was in New York City, the Ethical Cultural School.
Was there a formative education that you received before you left Lithuania?
I attended a private progressive kindergarten, and had a private tutor that came to the house once or twice a week. During the German occupation the Russian schools were closed. At eight or so, I attended a school where every subject was taught in Hebrew. I came to the USA when I was about nine.
Can you tell me something about your family background there and how you were in that position?
My mother and I lived with my grandmother, my grandfather died before I was born. My mother and father were not living together. My grandmother ran a dry goods store. Much of her income came from manufacturing shirts and other clothing for the local police force, the local fire department and possibly the Russian Army.
This was for the town itself?
Yes, for the town functions. Police and fire departments.
So this was a reasonably large business?
Largish. My uncles and aunts were socialists— "revolutionaries" of that period. They were in their early twenties. The oldest uncle was older and did not partake in these activities. My grandmother always received warning from the police when they were going to come and search the house for literature or whatever it is.
Were there reverberations in 1905, 1907?
Well, no. You see, those dates are prior to my birth. In 1914, when I was six, we lived with my grandmother in a large apartment in a court yard. We had a telephone and electric power. My mother and I left Vilna in 1916 after the Germans occupied the city and we migrated through Holland to the USA. Vilna was the traditional path to Moscow (Napoleon, Hitler).
Were there any experiences that you personally recall of that revolutionary period in Russia?
I don't, you know. It hardly touched me at my age. As the Germans moved in my uncles moved with the Russians. And they all ended up in Moscow and Leningrad and have died there. So I have relatives in Moscow and Leningrad. My mother and I then migrated after the German occupation. I had no scientific exposure at that age.
That's what I was wondering. The woman was a tutor that you had, was there any reading or any indication of natural scientific topics?
No, none at all, not that made any impression on me. I went to Wisconsin, my initial notion was to be an architect or study philosophy. I puttered around I found that I didn't have enough credits at the end of the sophomore year to get a degree in any subject. I had a lot of math and did not want to major in math, I just took elementary physics. [In my junior year I took the advanced introductory course in physics and a course in heat conduction—although it is given in the physics department—it was a course in Fournier series]. Finally in 1930 when I got a degree, there were very few jobs. I was one of the few people who could have gone to Corning Glass and I decided I didn't want to live in Corning, New York. I said the hell with it. They'll either give me an assistant instructorship or I'll just do what I've been doing.
One could expect to get a position such as that with a Bachelors Degree at that time?
Yes. [Assistant instructors were selected generally from BAs. This was the general practice through the country in the leading departments of physics]. There were a number of Wisconsin PhDs in Corning Glass Research Lab and they wanted to train me to do something, not necessarily in their lab there—their research lab. I didn't quite want to start moving out of physics and I didn't want to live in Corning.
Could I go back just a little bit? You say you didn't have any exposure to scientific subjects before coming to this country. When do you recall your first exposure to such matters?
Well, real exposure was the Ethical Culture School. I took chemistry and physics.
That was where?
In New York City and it's a private school. The classes were small. You basically could do whatever you pleased. It was a school founded on a progressive principle but they drilled you to pass the college board exams.
There was a teacher who introduced...
Oh, yes. Clark. He then looked old to me, but must have been fifty or so. Very enthusiastic and a very good teacher. I'm sure Robert Oppenheimer and Frank Oppenheimer had the same exposure from Clark. They both went to that school. Robert was way ahead of me and Frank was below me.
This was physics he was teaching?
Physics and chemistry. The school was small; the enrollment was small enough that he could handle both. One you got in your junior year; one you got in your senior year depending on what arrangements you made.
Was there a laboratory?
Very much so. Well equipped laboratory, very well equipped.
What was your own reaction at that point, this first exposure to pure science, relative to what you learned from textbooks and what you learned in the laboratory?
Well, my initial interest was basically more in the philosophy of science than science itself. I drifted away from philosophy in college and went into physics.
Would it be fair to say that your laboratory experience at the Ethical Culture School was...
Not very important. In Wisconsin when I was a senior I started to putter in the lab of the professors, H. B. Wahlin. I don't know why but, I was there in the labs all the free time—never mind what—watching the vacuum system, making routine measurements. [Wahlin was using a mass spectroscope and he was identifying isotopes and some compound with a small number of atoms. Not necessarily performing my own experiments. I wrote a senior thesis—a review of mass spectroscopy—Aston's work and I think Bainbridge's work at Harvard].
The old positive ray analysis.
Ray Herb was starting to separate heavy isotopes—mercury, using R.F. acceleration and measuring the time of flight. In those days Aston's mass spectroscope had a limited resolution and was used for light elements. I thing Fe was the heaviest element studied. It isn't until Bainbridge starts really trying to get accurate measurements on mass defects that this whole field becomes important. Before that, it was more of trying to find isotopes rather than to understand basic structure.
Did Herb teach some of the courses that you took, the first physics courses that you took?
Herb was a contemporary of mine, Ray Herb. We were seniors together. In trying to accelerate ions, Ray Herb—and this is an impression—he then got involved in building a Van de Graaff. 1930 was the beginning of nuclear physics at Wisconsin. Leland Hayworth started to build a half million volt accelerator using—Cockcroft Walton.
Was Herb working with Cockcroft-Walton machines before the Van de Graaff?
No, Leland Hayworth, I think, who worked [on secondary electron emission from pure metals. When he completed his PhD on that subject, he continued in Madison as an instructor, and started to construct a Cockcroft-Walton accelerator. I think the top voltage was about 500,000 volts. Ray Herb, who was my classmate, we graduated in the same class, after his senior thesis on the isotopes of Mercury he started to construct and use a Van de Graaff machine, obtaining accelerating voltages of about two million volts. Then there was an assistant professor [inaudible] who worked on gas discharges, an assistant professor Julian Mack who built a vacuum spectroscope to study the spectra of highly ionized atoms. Thus all of us understood each other's work. I forgot, I worked on the head of Columbium and that was my thesis topic.
We also had in that group all of our theoreticians—Bob Serber and their thesis adviser was Van Vleck. Bob Serber wrote his thesis on the Faraday Effect of Cesium atoms of vapor. The experimental work in that area was being done at the University of Illinois, and Loomis who became head of the physics department there did those experiments. The other theoreticians, all under Van Vleck, three or four, were calculating wave functions and energy levels for molecules and atoms. And thus we had a group that in a certain sense taught each other and thus we expanded our general view in physics, both in theory and experiments. Havens worked on magnetic [inaudible]. I'm now ... Now let me contrast this sort of atmosphere with the graduate school, from what I've learned, being on a visiting committee of the physics department years later, at MIT and Harvard. MIT was quite different. Vicky Weisskopf as chairman of the physics department put the entire theoretical group apart from the experimental group, re-did a floor in one of the MIT buildings, put carpets in, made elegant places to work in, and thus built a fence between the experimental and theoretical physicists. As a member of the visiting committee, I made this observation, and thought it was bad educational process, but obviously I never won that argument. One must remember that when I was on the visiting committee of these institutions, the graduate enrollment was 300, 500 - it was no longer as it was in the twenties and thirties, and therefore, you obviously introduced greater and greater isolation between theory and experiments. This was not true at Harvard. I might as well inject this, that a theoretician like Serber understood experiments, appreciated them,and made very important suggestions. This was true of his function in Los Alamos, and his residency at Berkeley and Caltech. Not many theoreticians have that ability or quality, to join the experimentalists and try to get an understanding of what they were trying to do.
One ought to also articulate that even in theoretical physics, we got some breadth. Van Vleck left Madison and went to Harvard as professor of physics. Gregory Breit was brought in as the theoretician. He had a different view of theoretical physics, and the type of problems that he assigned his graduate students. After, … we also had in residence one year Fowler—the statistical mechanician from Cambridge; again, a theoretician with a different point of view than Van Vleck and Breit. After I left, Wigner came along and spent a year there, and etc. That's when as a graduate student in Madison, Wisconsin, I was exposed to many experiments, many approaches and areas in theoretical physics, and one begins to wonder, as the enrollment increased all over the nation and the graduate students in any given department, whether this informality, this comradeship between the graduate students in various fields, who taught each other, could continue to prevail. In order to identify some of the graduate students, in my first year as a graduate student, [inaudible] was doing experimental work, and that was his last year. He finally became, years later, head of research at General Electric, following the tradition of Langmuir, Deutschman, etc. Leland Hayworth, you're all aware, ended up being head of the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He was director of the Science Foundation, that's right, and he was ...other contributions to general group, to physics. I just don't remember everything].
Who were the professors that taught those courses that introduced you to physics at Wisconsin?
Well, I guess the most interesting person is Van Vleck and Warren Weaver. Warren Weaver was a professor of mathematics—I took courses from him as an undergraduate in probability—but he taught electromagnetic theory and dynamics at the graduate level.
Did you use a text in those courses?
Not in dynamics but in electromagnetic theory the notes of Mason and Weaver was the text. By that time the notes were put into a book. Weaver was head of the math department.
So Weaver had been doing this sort of thing for a while.
Oh, yes. Before he went to the Rockefeller Foundation to head up first physics and then math or physical sciences. He was very close to Max Mason. Mason was at Wisconsin then went to Chicago to be president in Chicago, then ended up as president of the Rockefeller Foundation and he took Warren Weaver along.
Van Vleck hadn't been at Wisconsin as a professor coming from University of Minnesota.
He came there—I don't remember—about 1926. My calculus courses—this is either advanced or beginning calculus—were taught by his father, who was chairman of the Math Department. So I know the Van Vlecks very well. I did take quantum mechanics from Van Vleck about 1931.
But he was teaching it at that early time?
Oh, he certainly was. Very difficult. You never appreciated Van Vleck until after you were through with the course.
[laughs] I imagine not.
No, I'm serious and he used to give very interesting exams. It would take you about an hour to understand the problem and then five minutes to do it. That was his style. We didn't use any textbook but he certainly drilled us. He wrote a book published by National Research Council, Quantum Theory. That was the last of the [old] quantum theory books and most likely the best.
It certainly was one of the most important documents introducing quantum theory to America.
So we had that not quite as a text because, you know, he was trying to get quantum mechanics into our brains.
This was what, 1930?
So this was explicitly quantum mechanics as such.
There's no question. [In 1926, quantum mechanics became the basis of atomic and molecular spectra]. About 1930, Van Vleck published his book on magnetism, and most likely the best condensed document on Maxwell's field equation is the first chapter of that book. Then we taught ourselves. Bob Serber and I shared an office, and we read together without Van Vleck's supervision Dirac's book when it came out.
Was that the way that Van Vleck taught quantum mechanics or was it wave mechanics.
No, no. Quantum mechanics. Straight quantum mechanics.
What kind of impression did Dirac's book make?
Well, we knew it was very important and that's why we read it at night together. We would take turns, you know, working through it and then lecturing to each other.
Was Van Vleck involved in that?
No. He was aware it was going on but he wasn't involved. I don't remember. Then Breit came; Van Vleck left. Breit had quite a different style. You know, Breit just loved to manipulate numbers. I mean, more and more. I talked to him a little about philosophy and physics but I couldn't cotton up to his personality. I mean, Van Vleck is a difficult personality but he isn't one that tries to dominate. He's very shy and retiring.
Was he more amenable to an interest in philosophy of science?
I never talked to him about that. We had a lot of visitors like R. H. Fowler. Wigner was there for a year or two and, you know, Dirac came through for a month. Others came for a month's stay. Herman Weyl as I remember.
Who was organizing that?
I don't know. The department chairman, Mendenhall, I don't know. I wasn't quite in the inner circles of the running of the department.
But it was the physics department as such.
Oh, sure, the physics department. They would sort of basically order you to go and listen to Dirac with the notion well you won't understand him but you better be exposed.
I don't know, but I imagine that that was closely connected to the Michigan Symposia that in the early 1930s were bringing people on a regular basis into that area.
Most likely. They came to this country, spent a month there, spent the summer at Michigan. R. H. Fowler spent a year in Madison. Wigner also spent a year in Madison.
Did you read Sommerfeld's book at all when you were a student with Van Vleck?
Oh, we may have used it as a reference.
It had been translated at that time?
Oh sure, It was translated but most of the stuff—see, as a graduate student I remember being forced to give the colloquium when Heisenberg first came out with his paper trying to get the whole periodic table fixed up with just protons and neutrons. If I remember correctly, the spin of nitrogen was wrong under those conditions and a few other things.
So you gave a talk on this?
Yes, you know, a summary of his papers made at the physics colloquium.
This was to the department or to your informal group?
No. To the department colloquium.
Did students regularly talk to the colloquium of the department?
Yes. And they normally talked not necessarily on their own work. What someone in the department thought were important papers that ought to be presented to the whole physics department.
So Van Vleck, Breit, or Mendenhall would say, "read up on this and give us a talk next week."
No. They'd give you ample time. They understood that it would take time to appreciate and give a good talk.
I'm interested in your own personal interests in philosophy of science and I was wondering whether there were experiences that you had with philosophy of the natural sciences as an undergraduate before deciding to go into physics? If so, with whom and how did that go over with you?
I don't know. I don't remember how I drifted into it. See, my general attitude when I went to college was not to get a profession or a trade but try to, you know, in the traditional thing, be educated. [To indicate how I drifted as an undergraduate, I ought to tell you that I took Greek. I started Greek in high school, and I took Greek as my language requirement for my bachelors degree. Most of the time we read things in Greek, but there was one course where we read the Greek plays as they were translated into English.] So I found the philosophy courses very disappointing in the sense that you go through Hume, Locke, Berkeley and Kant and all that and I didn't quite cotton up to that. But you see during that period one has to appreciate Eddington; he had written a popular book that was widely read. I think Russell was writing popular things.
James Jeans too, I imagine.
Yes, but this was less, you know. I think reading those things sort of pointed me in the direction to indicate an interest in philosophy
Can you isolate issues that were of concern to you that came out reading these?
I don't know. This is difficult.
I think it's not at all unusual today for undergraduates going into the sciences to be concerned with some of those issues. But in a very general sense, in a sociological sense, my impression is that that was fairly unusual in this country at that period of time for people who went on in physics and studied physics professionally. I think that's one of the reasons that you may have had some difficulty in communicating those interests to other people in physics.
I can say talking to Breit, he would be very encouraging. But I was in experimental physics and I wasn't going to take a problem that Breit assigned to people which was a great deal of computation. Especially when you had to use these desk calculators, Monroe calculators. They had an electric motor.
How had you decided to go to Wisconsin? You were in New York City.
Well, that gets complicated. I went to Ethical Culture School where normally the kids went to the Ivy League schools. We had as head of the school—I'm not sure what his position was—an educator by the name of Vivian Thayer who wanted to break that pattern. You had then ...also Wisconsin had a very liberal tradition. Micheljohn you know was coming in there, Alexander Micheljohn. Starting the experimental college. You had Glenn Frank as president who had a liberal reputation. It looked as though there would be a lot of intellectual ferment there. Besides, tuition was cheap.
Was that a problem for you?
Your family resources were not available to you here?
But nonetheless you were going to a private school.
I had a scholarship to this school.
So you basically followed their recommendations or listened closely to their recommendations about Wisconsin?
That's right. Of course, I never was there. I guess I had been west of the Hudson by then, but not west of the Delaware. Yes, even west of Delaware but not very far.
The science teacher at the school, Clark was his name, did he have any influence on you in this decision to go to Wisconsin?
No, no. It was more of...I don't know. Maybe my room teacher, I can't tell you. But in my senior year there—we used to call it "delta"—Clifton Fadiman was the room teacher. You know, the one who was on radio on "Information" something. There were others. Henry Simon, and we had a very good math teacher there.
Do you remember his name?
Well, I took, I guess, trigonometry from a tall, Irish woman, I don't know the first name—Miss Murphy. She was very good.
How far in mathematics did one go in that school? Did you go through calculus at all?
No. You could have, but you see, I skipped one year of high school. They admitted me and so I read algebra myself during the summer. Now, if I didn't skip a year and had another year to go, there would have been no problem. We had an excellent math department. [inaudible], head of math, was always interested in shoving kids ahead; so that the atmosphere was there.
So you studied algebra on you own. That wasn't the summer before you went to Wisconsin. That must have been before.
I skipped the junior year so it was between my sophomore and senior year.
And then had trigonometry?
Trigonometry as a senior. There was no problem going into it.
What the level of mathematics in the introductory physics courses that you took at Wisconsin?
Well, the introductory physics course expected you to be very facile in algebra and trigonometry. I don't remember whether the second term they threw in some calculus.
But generally there was very little.
Very little although it's an advanced course. I mean, advanced introductory course. The only thing is that it was a small group.
Did Van Vleck teach any of the undergraduate courses?
No. Not that I remember. But Roebach taught the advanced introductory course and he was the expert on the porous plug experiment.He used the whole elevator shaft to have a mercury column and things like that to be available for his experiment. He was also in charge of making sure that all liquid air machines were operated properly.
How many of your fellow students were involved in this informal group to study Dirac? And I assume other things too, besides just Dirac.
Well, there was Bob Serber. There were about five of us. There were two other people and I don't quite remember them. Maybe Gobel. They were ahead of us. There was mostly people who came in through the graduate work about 1930.
Did they have their own group?
I know from my own work to have a small group like that to talk about problems is extremely helpful.
Yes. We read Dirac and then we started to go through Whittaker and Watson, which is lots easier. It is just analysis.
That's classical analysis too. It makes a big difference (laughs).
No, but you know. We should have started to go into group theory. We didn't. Someone should have told us.
As a student who had perhaps done more in philosophy of science or questions related to philosophy, how did quantum mechanics strike you at that point?
I guess it was all—as I remember—a tremendous enthusiasm. Because this was what was happening. This was the main stream and one just wanted to understand the main stream. But I can't answer the question directly.
For example, did problems related to indeterminism or wave particles dualism occur.
It didn't bother us.
Because the formalism worked?
I just remember, you know, working in the lab trying to make the older professors understand it. And they were bothered no end. It was more that sort of badgering by these older guys. But we didn't. It was nice talking with them. Maybe we helped; maybe we gave them the wrong ideas.
But you personally never—at least in those early years—you never felt that some of their objections perhaps spoke to some of the issues that had brought you into philosophy?
Yes, and another thing, I guess I took a very strong position that this Heisenberg indeterminancy relation had nothing to do with free will. No. These ethical philosophers who emphasize the ethical aspects of things always argued against the notion of reaching that conclusion. That's how it evolved basically.... Leave us alone, you know. You had the same problem with relativity and morality.
As what is now called the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum mechanics developed as a philosophical issue, was it discussed among the physicists?
Van Vleck stressed a great deal the correspondence principle. He stressed it, trying to stress that this was really a very important concept; to give you the base. You see, he'd just written that book on quantum theory which relies heavily on the correspondence principle. This was discussed a great deal, and in Nature during those years, there were a number of articles on these issues.
Do you think the discussion of these issues had any effect on physics itself, on doing physics, and on the kind of experimental work you were involved with?
No, no. Because I was doing, let me call it, solid state, evaporation rates, trying even to educate my Professor Wahlin, what was going on in quantum mechanics of the solid state. Block was writing then. I'm not sure whether Hans Bethe was, but I remember Bloch and others. Wahlin was really also in solid state. We didn't understand it at all. It was amazing.
When were you first introduced to Fermi statistics.
I guess very early. I don't quite remember. Van Vleck may have given us a statistical mechanics course.
Which included recent topics such as that?
Yes, because I still have from my school days Fowler's Statistical Mechanics. You know, these blue books. Later on I bought a second edition so that this was when I was a graduate student and buying a book like that was a big investment. Then there is a whole series of books from Cambridge Press on related topics: solid state and radiation, Heitler and all of that. I mean, just looking in the books that I haven't looked at for a long time, I remember what I was exposed to.
This was in the first two years as a graduate student in 1931, 1932?
I guess very early. I don't quite remember. Van Vleck may have given us a statistical mechanics course.
Which included recent topics such as that?
Yes, because I still have from my school days Fowler's Statistical Mechanics. You know, these blue books. Later on I bought a second edition so that this was when I was a graduate student and buying a book like that was a big investment. Then there is a whole series of books from Cambridge Press on related topics: solid state and radiation, Heitler and all of that. I mean, just looking in the books that I haven't looked at for a long time, I remember what I was exposed to.
This was in the first two years as a graduate student in 1931, 1932?
1932, 1933. Trying to understand the simple...lack of consistency experimentally between work functions, heat of evaporation and all that.
There were a lot of experimental topics.
Yes. You immediately had to...well, I found that I wanted to get the statistical and the solid state information.
Who was the research adviser for your first project?
Wahlin. He was a good experimenter but he had never touched real problems. I mean, I think he got his degree either from Millikan in Chicago or something like that, you see. Millikan doesn't go to Caltech until the early 1920s. Am I right?
Yes. This was not your senior thesis that you talked about?
No. That was my Ph.D. thesis.
Was that the first serious experimental research you had undertaken?
Well, I undertook other things and didn't quite get a thesis out of it. I finally went to that, trying to measure heats of evaporation of elements like columbium; metals that had valid measurements on work functions.
These are photo-electric work functions that you would use?
Yes. Well, Wisconsin had a lot of photo-electric. High vacuum. That was Mendenhall's dish of tea.
I only ask that because in my own research that's an important issue: the developing concerns over the photo effect on the nature of radiation. Again, from what you said, I take it that potential problems in conceptualizing the notion of a localization of energy and radiation were, in a sense, glossed over; that the acceptance of the quantum theoretical formalism essentially answered those questions and one didn't have to be concerned with questions related to the physical reality of photons or the reconciliation of interference with photons.
Fowler was in residence for a year or a term and while there—I was a second or first year graduate student—he worked out a distribution of electrons from when the metal surface was radiated.
He did that at Wisconsin?
Was he giving talks on this so that you were aware that he was doing it?
I'm not sure. But the final thing, he gave a talk. But while he was there—I think he was spending most of the time with Mendenhall and Van Vleck. He was a very interesting guy. He would come to the colloquium in shirt sleeves and start falling asleep, and as soon as someone said something he didn't like, he would be at him. You know, he's a big, heavy guy.
Did he bring any direct influence from the Cavendish: Rutherford's type of work?
I doubt it. You see, the people who came like Lord Penny or Bill Penny who was a post-doc—and I use him as a symbol—he worked with Van Vleck. They basically were solving the Schrödinger equation for more and more complex molecules, four atoms or more. He got his degree, I think he came from Kramer's. Never mind, he was a Cambridge or Oxford graduate. This was the period where they were trying to use quantum mechanics successfully on more and more problems. A lot of people went into great detail on hydrogen; Coolidge at Harvard. I don't remember those theoretical chemists. But those were the foreign students of post-doc who came to Van Vleck, including Shlapp—who is a professor in Scotland, and Mrs. Percile Rinner from Cambridge. They came on Commonwealth fellowships. Whatever was available those days.
Some of the Rockefeller Foundation money, I guess, had begun to drop off at about that point in the Depression. You had a position at Wisconsin as what, an instructor?
An assistant instructor and then the last year I just was given a fellowship.
Did you suffer a wage reduction in that period of time as a result of the Depression?
Yes. In fact, I was treasurer of the Teachers' Union, basically representing the assistant instructors. The president of the Union was a famous professor of law. There was not picketing, but just the existence of the group protected the $80 a month for the assistant instructors.
That was the standard wage for assistant instructors?
Right. You know, in other places it might have been $65. The fellowships they protected were $75 a month for ten months.
These were research fellowships?
Yes. They had internal university money. It wasn't government money. There were normally two fellowships in the Physics Department. You got to realize that the whole graduate group in a place like Wisconsin, I would guess there must have been 30 or 40 of us. Now there are—I don't know—300. I think the importance of the small group was that you got exposed to everything that everyone was doing. Which in a place like Rockefeller University, you don't. You're just with your professor and you may have ten people around in various grades.
So you say the fellowships and the $75 a month wage were protected.
The faculty got cute. I don't remember whether it was 5% or 10%.
Did this affect research work or did research work carry on?
No, the research work kept going. You hardly bought any equipment. You always built your own. Now, the most startling thing was that during the Depression a number of Wisconsin Ph.D.s—a handful—came back and were given labs and money to continue their research.
From the University?
From the University. The WPA money basically went to seniors. So much an hour to go through some kind of routine work. Well, if you want to know more, during the Bank Holiday no had money. We had a colleague who was very wealthy from Philadelphia and he said, "Relax everyone. I just got a check from home." And we couldn't convince him that his check was worthless. But Mrs. Mendenhall—the Mendenhalls were very well off like the Van Vlecks—called up her grocer which was the fanciest grocer in Madison and told him to give credit to every member of the Physics Department. Especially the graduate students. So that everyone could get by. Eggs were 12 cents a dozen.
That would have been for how long?
As long as the Bank Holiday lasted. I don't know how long it lasted, whether it took about a month to stabilize everything. As far as the University cafeteria on the Wisconsin campus, everyone just had a charge account.
Was there any interest on your part, or any possibility, for study abroad? Or was there no interest in that?
It was just out of the question? If it had been possible would you have been interested?
Oh, I would have been very much interested. I think Bob Serber got the National Research Council. There were still a few left.
Where did he go? Do you recall?
Well, I don't know whether he went directly to Oppenheimer in Berkeley or Caltech.
I don't know myself.
We can call him and find out. But he was very close to Oppie. In fact, he may still be sort of looking out for Oppie's kids after Oppie's wife died.
I'm wondering about the shift. There was a definite shift in the early 1920s to the early 1930s vis a vis the interest and the necessity for study abroad by American physicists. In the early 1920s there were large numbers of people traveling abroad.
Yes, that was over with and I'll tell you why. Rabi was back; Phil Morse was back; Condon was back. Those who went were back, writing books. Morse even wrote a book on something. There were others. Bob Robertson was back. I don't know what to call him—a theoretical astronomer. And there was a whole group that was back in the 1930s. They were all assistant professors. Those were the ones who started to teach us.
When you say you would have been interested had it been possible, were you speaking more from a personal point of view or from the extension of your own experience? Were there specific things that you could learn to do in physics in Europe that you couldn't learn to do here?
No, that wasn't it. By that time Europe was sending all the young guys for jobs here like Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck. That period, I think, ended about 1930. It slops over. It started in 1922. Then in the late 1930s there was a migration to the USA of many distinguished physicists.
Well, there was important work going on at Wisconsin. The development of alternatives to the cyclotron, the attempt to push Van de Graaff generators up to higher and higher voltages in pressurized containers. Did any of that have an influence on your work?
No. Except one knew what was going on. But not influenced. I guess I don't start appreciating the results of the Van de Graaff machine as an experimental tool until I get exposed right after the war to Charlie Lauritsen and Willie Fowler at Caltech. Because prior to the war the Van de Graaff thing with Van de Graaff at MIT was a big engineering endeavor. No, it was in that damn airplane hangar some place. One always had that view of it rather than experimental results. They started the High Voltage Engineering Company. The important experimental results come from places like Caltech and Ray Herb eventually. But you asked me what was my reaction. All those damn condensers; charging them then discharging them. Most of the time the guys were trying to build something rather than do experiments.
Did that affect your work at all?
I would think sometimes that the people in Berkeley were inconvenienced by the effects in the electrical system.
Oh, it could have. But I don't remember that.
This attitude that you're now expressing about this—judging from outside appearances—engineering effort; was this shared and discussed by people doing more traditional work in experimental physics? As you talk to me I try to recall what was my attitude and it was just an attitude. You go to those labs and you never ask them how an experiment is going, but whether the system is working. There was no theoretician interested in it, you see.
Breit was for awhile, wasn't he?
Well, Breit was there. He most likely was interested but it wasn't an interest that was through the entire group of graduate students. While what Van Vleck was doing was. No if you ask me "why?" this becomes tough, I can just tell you that I remember Bob Serber's thesis and we were all very interested in the Faraday effect in cesium vapor. It's a good quantum mechanical problem.
Was this the same adviser that you had?
No, no. Serber worked for Van Vleck. But I'm just telling you it is much closer to what was going on with quantum theory. I mean, no one was worried about neutrons in Madison and things like that. And most likely, in other places it was quite different. My colloquium presentation on Heisenberg's paper in 1933 taught a great deal about neutrons.
Well, Wisconsin is an interesting topic but I think we better move one. In 1935, shortly after getting your degree...
I went to work for RCA, for Zworykin. Again, one of the few jobs that was available.
Was that looked upon by you and your contemporaries as a good job at the time?
Oh, a very good job.
One of the few that came along.
Yes, a very good job. I got $2400 bucks a year. There were no teaching jobs to speak of.
What were your responsibilities to be at RCA?
Well, Zworykin ran basically solid state physics, surface physics. The group was working on these electron multipliers. Photoelectrons are accelerated and the numbers increased as they impinged on secondary electrons emitted and thus the initial signal is amplified. Other topics were phosphor for cathode ray tubes, and the photoelectric surface for iconoscopes.
This was for amplifying purposes?
Yes, the secondary electron emission.
Was RCA interested in them for audio amplification?
No. I don't know why. This was an extension of the photoelectric tube. RCA sold a lot of photoelectric tubes and never mind that the astronomers became the big users of the multiplier. That's neither here nor there. Why RCA was interested, I don't know.
Did Zworykin contact you personally about a position there at RCA?
I don't remember. The only thing I know is they went completely on Mendenhall's recommendation. And I think my interview was with the number two man under Zworykin, Morton, rather than with Zworykin directly. Most likely I met Zworykin too. So I tried to understand the secondary electron emission from surfaces since this is the multiplication problem.
You wanted to show, for example, chemically what you could do to those internal electrodes to increase your yield.
To increase the yield.
I remember the one abstract that I found in Physical Review was on this.
Yes. And then I reproduced the Moller effect that made the surface produce thousands of secondary electrons. We never could get to bottom of the problem whether it's due to the actual pinholes in oxide surface or some kind of field emission.
Has that been resolved now?
I don't think so because people lost interest. I don't know. Then I got involved in trying to see if one could artificially build a "transistor." We acquired a great technique of evaporating, say a hundred Angstroms and all that. You try basically to duplicate an electrode in a triode.
How early was that?
This is 1935, 1936, 1937.
That was when you first came there?
Yes. I found that this was a very trying job. The atmosphere in the lab was beyond my lifestyle.
Could you develop that?
Yes, very easy. There were two things. I used to get hell for coming late. No one ever cared how long I stayed. Then there was a different management. You had to leave at five. Then every half hour Zworykin would go in and say, "What's new?"
How large a staff was there?
Well, there were about twelve of us and two glass blowers, and a mechanic. And this drove me up the wall. I never understood how people could...So I didn't stay there, you know, just three years.
Was this policy that Zworykin had worked out or was this RCA policy that he was following?
This was RCA; and Zworykin's thing "What have you got...or...What have you done for me lately?" is his style of operation. Then a lot of nasty things—who's patent it was, Zworykin or someone stole from the Harrison group. The Harrison group under Thompson was a much more rational research operation, in Harrison, N.J. And then all these groups moved into Princeton but that was way before Princeton RCA Lab was built.
How many groups were there at RCA?
There was one at Camden and one in Harrison.
Just the two, then?
I think at the time.
Were the topics of research essentially set by the research director and he would put different people on different aspects of, for example, the emission from electrodes?
I could have chosen that or tried to understand what the television tube— the iconoscope—was like, in terms of photoelectron emission and surface effects.
I'm wondering how far afield from ...
You couldn't do nuclear physics.
Nuclear physics, I can understand. Did they have people doing theoretical work in electron band structure?
No, no. Zworykin would never understand that.
This was also true of Thompson?
No. That's quite different, quite different. Thompson got killed in the war in an airplane accident. He had an appreciation what research was, although his highest degree was an Electrical Engineer. Zworykin was basically an inventor.
If he might not have understood theoretical treatments in solid state band structure or something like that, would he have appreciated their usefulness?
No. He would appreciate what we did was to try to get the trajectory as the thing went from one electrode to another. Initially, it was all magnetic focusing. Then you started shaping electrodes. There were two techniques. One was to have a big electrolytic bath. Then the other theoretical work was to stretch a rubber membrane and the voltages would correspond to the height. The rubber membrane would assume the shape of the voltage distribution. Then you would roll highly polished steel little balls down. Poisson's equation he understood. That kind of calculation or analog computations of that character.
This raises a very interesting point.
Yes. But abstract things...
How did one envision electrons and electron motion at that time? You personally, when you were working with electron emission, were you thinking in terms of pressure differentials in a hydrodynamic system or were you thinking of little particles that were flying around?
Particles. There was a whole class of books coming out at that time called Electron Optics.
So it's like geometrical optics.
That's right. It's straight trajectory calculations and you've got similar aberrations that you have in optics. What you do to stray fields was an annoying problem.
I imagine some of the focusing problems in the cyclotron and other beam experiments were important.
That's right. Well, these are much lower voltages but you find that guys like Kerst worked with the Betatron at very high voltages, dealing with relativistic electrons. He was at Wisconsin and still is. John Kerst made elaborate calculations on the Betatron. He built one in Illinois. Now I'm getting confused about the time scale. I think it's all before the war. The Germans wrote a great deal on electron optics and it starts with, I guess, the cathode-ray tube. Then you start going after klystrons traveling wave tubes. Well, traveling wave tubes comes after the war.
How accessible was the German literature?
Very. Springer was the publisher. It was quite open.
Was it standard for someone working in your field at that time, say at RCA, to be reading the German literature?
The German books, yes. As far as literature, I joined the library at the Franklin Institute. Used to spend Saturdays there. They had everything. All the contemporary stuff.
Were such papers cited by American investigators?
Sure. You see, this is also a time toward the period of 1936, 1937, 1938—a great surge in electron microscope. Warren Waver tried to persuade me to come to Rockefeller University and start building an electron microscope with Rockefeller Foundation money. I said "nuts." The reason is that I just didn't want to be a person who would service the biologists and that's what would have happened.
What about the supporting equipment, general electronics—maybe that's the wrong word to use at that time—but amplifying equipment of general purpose, oscilloscopes, that sort or thing. How widely available were they?
The oscilloscopes were widely available. Then at that time, you had the television guys building amplifiers that would operate, oh I don't know, four megacycles or something like that, whatever the band was. These were the initial things that started the whole wide band amplifiers. They were used during the war and then after the war. You had at that period signal generators and all of that but the maximum frequency that one was interested in was about one hundred megacycles. That was high.
Was this considered physics work or electrical work?
No, this was done mostly by electrical engineers. Except we had one theoretician, Romberg.
This was at RCA?
Yes, under Zworykin. Romberg spent all of his time on electron trajectories. Let me tell you how smart the Bell Labs were. It was all Mervyn Kelly. This is an aside. You know, from 1935 until after 1937, 1938, there were no jobs. And Mervyn Kelly went up and picked up the brightest guys at MIT and Princeton and brought them to Bell Labs. Bardeen wasn't at MIT, he came from Princeton. But Shockley was. They picked up Kittel. But that's the beginning of the real scientific work at Bell Labs. Although they'll deny it and say we always were scientific. Prior to that, the major concern was with electro-magnetic propagation and signals on wires and noise. Thermionics was a major topic of research. Shockley, Bardeen, Brattain—an old hand at Bell Telephone Labs and experimentalists were recipients of Nobel Prizes, for their transistor. Germer and Davidson also were recognized earlier; all under Kelly's umbrella.
The kinds of things that RCA was also interested in.
RCA never went beyond that the way that Bell Labs did?
They just hired people. And I give Mervyn Kelly the credit and I may be wrong. But he was then head of research at BTL.
Was the situation at CBS any better than RCA?
No. Again I ran into an inventor, Goldmark, but he was very well grounded in basic physics. And well, we tried to put color television on the air, with great success. So I got involved in the whole business: theory of colorvision, filters, and all that. I basically was the physicist in that situation. What kind of phosphorus to use, what kind of filters, the shapes.
So more directly than even at RCA, you were working on technological issues connected with television.
That's right. And I was head of the lab there, a dozen of us. No, I was more of an engineering type.
It was your decision to leave RCA?
Yes, they were reducing their force. I had bitter arguments with Zworykin. At CBS, even though further removed from physics, the atmosphere was quite different. You had technologically sophisticated people with whom you could deal.
And there was enough of a commitment to the notion of color television?
Oh, this was CBS's method of postponing television that RCA wanted to put on and CBS was making too much money on radio. They wanted to demonstrate color television. They said why bring in black and white; wait until color. In retrospect you realize that this was the name of the game.
You think they realized it at the time?
Oh, I think this was a thoughtful strategy (laughs). A thoughtful strategy.
At CBS then you were directing the research of a number of people.
Yes, we had people working on phosphorus.
And presumably spending less and less of your time on research topics.
Yes, that's right. The business of color was my assignment. Then we had to to run errands for Goldmark and things like that. But it was much better atmosphere from my point of view. I mean, you had contacts. There were people who were in the theatrical business and it was a much more...
You enjoyed that?
Sure. You know, you could have a pleasant luncheon relationship. No one cared what time you came in; no one cared what time you left. There was none of that silly pressure of the time clock.
So then, it would be fair to say that before the war and before your involvement in wartime administration of scientific effort that in a sense you had already moved seriously in that direction?
Oh, I think that's right. I moved...I would say drifted. I never set a goal: "This is the job I want and wait for." I just drifted. Drifted, every job I got. This may sound very unthoughtful or something that how I've lived.
You would say that's true even up to the present?
Well, sure. I'm retired. I have this room at Rockefeller University because Fred Seitz and I are old friends and it took me a year to decide "All right, I'll..." But once I retired, Wiesner-Stratton tried to get me to MIT and I refused. Kennedy and Nixon asked me to come to Washington and I refused. This is the 1960s and 1970s.
Let's see, you were at CBS right until 1942?
That's right. When I decided I've got to go to war and they weren't moving.
CBS wasn't moving?
Yes. But after I left about six months later, Goldmark and that whole group moved into the counter-measure business that was run out of Harvard under Fred Terman of Stanford. That's where Van Vleck was too during the war. But by then I was in the Navy Department.
You had made that decision yourself to go?
What did you do? Did you join the Navy and then...?
[When I joined the Navy Department in 1942 as a civilian, the group covered radar, ship, and airborne for both detection of targets and fire control, communication, sonar, and electronic counter measures. Contact was maintained with NDRC groups—Radiation Lab at MIT and others. Thus there was responsibility to know the work in progress—whether it fitted the needs of the Navy, when the equipment may be ready for production—where the lab will supply preproduction models for test or use and whether the Navy will look to commercial fabricators. When the Navy was not sure of the needs, NDRC would produce a handful for operational trial. Such examples were—radar for night fighters and airborne large search radar. In both cases once they were tried in the fleet, they were readily accepted in the Navy and large production was started. My initial assignment was to put together equipment consisting of a camera in a nose of a power airborne drone. The picture, the information, was then made available to the fighter aircraft. Aircraft would then control via a radio link the drone and then aim the drone with its TNT load on to the target. This was a forerunner to the present system being put in use by the Air Force. In the group the individuals responsible had a great deal of freedom, the red tape was at a minimum. This assignment permitted me to know the people in the labs and provided judgment on who was "good". This was [helpful] when I joined ONR.] The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor I tried to get a commission in the Navy and they told me they didn't need a specialist like me. Then the Bureau of Ships wrote to me. I don't know why. I didn't take the initiative. They wrote and said, "Will you come?" I wasn't looking for a job. They found me. I said fine.
What would you have done had they not found you at that point?
I guess I would have stayed at CBS and moved in with that whole engineering effort on counter-measure.
Okay. Instead the Bureau of Ships convinced you to do...
[The group had a number of subgroups that each performed a designs function: responding to fleet request, initiating new designs studying the work of Radiation Lab, NDRC and industry; the areas covered included electron central devices, radar, and communication. The functions were a mixture of applied research, design, engineering and purchasing.]
For research projects?
No. This is for weapons.
Weapons development or weapons production?
Development and production. The administrative functions were not well structured. So one spent a lot of time at the MIT radiation lab and one spent a lot of time at places like RCA and Naval labs.
The Radiation lab.
At MIT. There's a Radiation lab at Columbia.
Radar work, radiation lab at Columbia was mostly magnetrons.
How early was the Bureau of Ships or the Navy in general seriously interested in radar?
Well, that goes back to about 1937. Let me give you some background. The initial experiments, sending a pulse up and getting a pulse back, a reflected pulse, were experiments performed by Merle Tuve—and you'd be surprised—Gregory Breit of the Carnegie Institution in Washington in the late 1920s or early 1930s. [Pointing the radiation horizontally, the motion of ships on the Potomac River was detected. The idea of "radar" came into being and the Naval Research Lab started to apply this to detection. The frequency used initially was a few hundred megacycles. The use of microwaves of 3,000 to 10,000 megacycles increased angular resolution and reduced the size of antennae and made it easier to put the radiators and detectors on airplanes and upper structures on ships. It also permitted narrow pulses and increased resolutions in azimuth and distance.] Now, you may not be aware but the thing that made a go of this to get power was the strapped magnetron the British brought to the U.S. before the Pearl Harbor attack. In order to get a great deal of oscillative power, you had here the filament, which was surrounded by appropriate cavities, every other cavity was electrically connected.
Every other electrode?
At every other lobe. That increased the power of the magnetron. I remember magnetrons at RCA in 1937 which hardly gave any power output.
So the combination of this and high band width amplifiers by 1941...
You had the elements but you then try to understand how to...
...put it together.
You didn't have the connecting parts between the elements and you had to get a way to detect the returning signal. Schwinger's involvement in these analyses, Vickie Weisskopf, and Hansen at Stanford who really in a certain sense is responsible for the linear accelerator. People think I am partially responsible for it, at least the Stanford people. But we can come to that later.
So by the time of your first involvement with the logistics effort of mobilizing naval resources for radar—and I assume for other things too, but at least for radar—was the feeling fairly widespread in the Navy that this was a feasible prospect and that it was deserving of major backing?
Oh, sure, major backing.
Was this primarily for submarine detection work?
Initially, it was for submarine detection, but then for many other operations, such as pinpointing bombing and airborne night fighters, fire control and detection, and airborne early warning. One of the main pushers in the Navy on that was a man who's dead, Lloyd Berkner. He was associated with the Carnegie Institution of Washington but he was a Naval Reserve aviator. He flew with Byrd to the North Pole, South Pole. When he died he was treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences and then Fred Seitz made me treasurer. But he was a great entrepreneur, a great pusher. Even if we didn't know something, he'd talk as though he was erudite. But he's responsible for getting the Navy into the whole microwave radar picture. Then the Air Force came along.
Do you think he had a hard job convincing them or was it fairly clear that here was something that was directly related to military operations.
Yes, sure, directly related to military operations. And we had a lot of backing from guys like Rabi, all those people, Luis Alvarez. But he's the one who stuck his neck out. In the Navy there was a curious group of people. I mean, even the regular Navy officers.
Was there support for other sorts of research?
No, one has to appreciate the following sort of thing. That OSRD and NDRC was run by Vanevar Bush—Bush ran one organization, Conant the other. Each had its own "money" supplied by the Federal government. What they decided was good for the military they would do and supply to the military. Even when military requirements were not articulated.
So it wasn't so much that they were controlling military research as that they were funding their own.
Their own. And now, the Navy would buy it. I'll give you examples. The first microwave bomb sight was designed by a group headed by Luis Alvarez at the Radiation Lab. [Luis went to England to demonstrate to the Air Force that an airborne microwave bombing sight was feasible. It took some time for the Air Force to feel at home with radar bombing. After trials, the Air Force found the equipment very useful. A similar problem prevailed. Two Navy aircraft with radar for night detection of fighters and aiming on the target were equipped. They were placed on a carrier. They weren't used for six months while they were there. Finally one night they found some enemy fighters, and they sent the new equipment and Navy aircraft out. And it was demonstratively very useful. And then we couldn't supply the night fighter equipment fast enough. These few procurements to start with were made by the OSRD-NDRC laboratories. The Navy finally started to procure many of them. The strength of OSRD and NDRC was that they could produce a limited amount of equipment to demonstrate the results of their equipment. There was a similar story in regard to proximity fuses that were designed under a group headed by Merle Tuve at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The initial new equipment was procured by the Radiation Lab, NDRC-OSRD. Radar for airborne night fighters was also designed and procured by Bush's operations.
I ask about other sorts of basic research specifically in the Navy because of the developments immediately after the war in the Office of Naval Research where more basic research than one might ordinarily have expected an organization under the Navy to support was being supported and I was wondering when that begin.
Well, I think during the war, I would say all basic research stopped.
Except those things that the OSRD and ...
No, but I wouldn't call any work basic research. Even the nuclear bomb; they did many calculations at Los Alamos but they were calculations that they needed specific answers for. They weren't driven by the internal dynamics of a field. They were driven by getting something done.
The Bureau of Ships was the special weapons group? Was it almost exclusively for logistics support for the radar development?
No. [The areas covered included electron control devices, radar, communications; functions were a mixture of applied research design, engineering, and purchasing.] We even tried television cameras and airborne drones to get bombing done. Then I moved from the Bureau of Ships and became a Naval officer, to the Chief in Naval Operations. We were a small group that had the responsibility of introducing new weapons to the fleet; explaining to the fleet their usefulness.
You mean completed weapons.
Or that were basically on a drawing board—rockets. We arranged for Navy support for the nuclear bombs. The transition between what is basically an engineering development and what the fleet ought to be asking for. And then even going as far as setting up initially operational groups before what we would call the fleet would accept. We were the group that supervised the operation that killed Joe Kennedy. The exercise was to load a B-24, which had a different Navy designation, with as much explosives as they could carry, point it at a target, control it from another plane and let the guys bail out from the big B-24. That thing exploded in the air in some place in France and Joe Kennedy was the pilot.
How aware was the Navy Office at that time of the Manhattan project?
The Navy was very well aware. Since I was in a specialized group and Los Alamos needed some planes, I was told, "Get them." And I told the captain, "Oh, well." Told him what it was for. He was shocked that I knew about it. I said, "Well, look, all my friends have gone there." Parsons was very close to the work at Los Alamos. He was an admiral who worked most of the time with the Los Alamos group. I think he was on a plane that went on the first mission. All these people are my friends, very close to me. We'd receive fleet reports after every operation with new weapons. We'd try to understand whether the weapons were worked properly.
Did any of your responsibilities for introducing weapons to the forces themselves involve work with nuclear weapons?
No. That was completely a separate operation. It involved rockets and rockets were under the general direction of Charlie Lauritsen before he became number two man at Los Alamos. Willie Fowler was also involved.
So your direct responsibilities during the wartime period excluded that completely. They covered conventional Naval weapons and logistics support for radar.
Yes. I was in that group in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
What was your own reaction to the development of the bomb and its use on Hiroshima?
My reaction, let me put it this way. In the Navy I was in the group that was involved in making sure that we had the latest sort of weapons for the invasion of Japan. I then was exposed to the number of projected American casualties and we were trying to get Air Force planes so we could equip them with large radar to sweep ahead. I was, I guess, the junior officer who went with some admirals to Admiral Nimitz and to Admiral Sherman in Oahu to discuss the invasion and the technologies that they needed. So my thinking was basically a reaction of reducing American casualties which were estimated to be very high. That was the first bomb. The second bomb was not my concern. It was an operational decision.
Was this felt to be a different sort of weapon by the Navy or you personally? Or was it considered to be a large scale version of essentially contemporary, conventional weaponry? What I'm driving at is whether one's reaction was partly influenced by the fact that this, at least in retrospect, seems to have opened up a series of problems that...
One did not contemplate any problems that would open up.
One was contemplating the problems that it would solve.
That's right. Because when you look at the total destruction that we produced on Hamburg with conventional weapons or the great fires we produced in Tokyo with conventional weapons.
And Dresden also.
Yes, one just looked at this as a very efficient way to do a similar job. There was no concern about side effects. I mean, that came much later. All the ramifications, initially one didn't notice any ramifications.
There was some speculation amongst those working in Los Alamos at the time that there might be some kind of atmospheric chain reaction set up.
Well, but you see, they had the measurements.
They were aware of these problems considerably earlier.
Earlier than anyone else. I mean, I don't think this was even... After the war all these tests in the Pacific. There were large task forces out to test them. I don't think the people were aware of what they were doing. In the sense that where we are at now, as I look back. Everyone wanted to go on one of these tests.
This would be true up to the early fifties even?
Well, I would say the late forties.
I'm wondering from your position of experience with the Navy whether you feel that that would also have been true in the development of the hydrogen bomb up to the Bikini tests?
Yes, the hydrogen bomb was a different set of things.
I know you didn't have any direct connection with that.
I think there was no appreciation really of the fallout until one started to measure. The guy you've got to talk to on all that and get the time scale right, is Hans Bethe. Simply because he was the major guy right after the war, trying to determine the character of the Russian bombs from the samples that the airplanes picked up in the air and all that. I can only give you the initial reaction and then have the whole realization of what one was doing evolve. We were much closer to all that—to operations.
How did that realization evolve in your own mind? Do you recall that?
I guess most of the time was the fallout business. Then there was a lot of discussion of building a clean bomb. To degrade the character of the fallout. You see, the megaton bombs don't appear until much later. This has a great deal to do with why the Russians could put a man in space before we could.
What is the connection there? I didn't quite follow that.
The megaton bomb makes people start being aware of the size of the havoc it produces and you can't any longer continue talking about a clean bomb, you see. So all of this evolves gradually except a few guys may have appreciated that but at that time they had no audience. They were talking to their own colleagues.
This is in the late forties?
Yes, in the late forties. And the hydrogen bomb doesn't get going—I don't remember the date—until the fifties.
What is the connection with the Russian space effort?
I'll tell you. We built ballistic missiles to carry nuclear bombs and our technology was such that we could get—let me say—a megaton for so many pounds of gear. That immediately told you what kind of engine you needed. The Russians never attained during that period the same efficiency.
I see. The same payload per kilogram.
The payload. So they had a tremendously larger engine. That immediately gave them the capability of going into space. Our power plants had limited thrust.
I see. So in a sense, our technology was playing a trick on us at that point. What about the initial stages of the Office of Naval Research? This was founded in 1946, after the war?
That was the law that was passed. I've to get the date. Let me try to go back a little bit. During the war there was something called the Office of Research and Inventions, something like that. Run by Admiral Fuhrer.
This was under the Navy.
Under the Navy. Professor Hunsacker was the first head. That was the main contact point between the Navy and Bush's operation. Never mind that no one paid much attention to them.
No one in the Navy?
No. Because one developed one's own individual contact with working groups in the Navy and Bush's operation, the Navy Bureau's—War Ships ordinance and the NDRC-OSRD Lab and Groups.
It didn't matter that they had very little influence in the Navy because Bush was supporting his own activities with his own appropriations.
Yes, his own. Say, I had my contacts in Bush's operation and I would let the admirals know what I was going to do, but they could never stop me or say, "This is the policy." Now, towards the end of the war you had a few guys moving in there: Admiral Bowen, Captain Robert Conrad, you had a very intelligent Secretary of the Navy by the name of James Forrestal. He had an aide by the name of Lewis Strauss—the same Lewis Strauss who was a Reserve Rear Admiral—and they had money. Money! First of all, he didn't need very much money. They said, "Why don't we start supporting universities?"
This was still during the war?
I find that just questions and answers do not provide the real flavor of those days. The Germans surrendered in 1945 and all of us knew that the war was shortly going to terminate with the Japanese. That occurred in 1945. Vannevar Bush was determined to terminate OSRD, and he started to take administrative actions for that purpose, as soon as the armistice with Germany had been signed. Within the Navy, symbolized by then Secretary of the Navy Forrestal, there was concern that the relations between science and the Navy developed during the war continue in some form or other. Obviously, the size of the operation under Bush had to be reduced, and an opportunity was required to permit the men, the scientists—the young people who were responsible for all these new weapons and ideas, to get back to do research, so that we could again put money in our intellectual bank for the future.
This was the real motivation behind the Navy, first finally ending up with ONR, which was then formally put on the legislative books in 1946 by an act of Congress. At that time, Bush focused all his energy to get the Congress to establish the National Science Foundation, and never mind that this didn't occur until the early fifties, this delay was based on the difference of point of view between President Truman and Vannevar Bush, and this is another story in the history of the government and science. In my book, this essay is a very important aspect to understand how science got involved in World War II, and what happened at the end of that conflict. Historically, the USA anticipated the coming of the war. The draft was in place before Pearl Harbor; the first week of November 1941, the scientists began leaving their home bases and joining laboratories, such as the Radiation Lab at MIT, before December 1941. They also took with them the best and the brightest graduate students, thus the undergraduate population was decreasing, the Ph.D. degree granting studies disappeared. The number of graduate students was becoming smaller and smaller, during the five years of the war. During this period, graduate instruction for the best was non-existent. After the war, the GI Bill of Rights provided the mechanism to revive undergraduate instruction. A piece of datum during that period: The average age of the undergraduate population after the war increased. ONR and the Atomic Energy Commission permitted the reinstitutionalization of graduate instruction and the renewal of research at universities. The five years of the war made experimental equipment that became valuable tools in research in physics. The war also produced new ideas for experimental equipment to be used in research. ONR and AEC provided new accelerators with ever increasing energy and detection equipment for nuclear physics, and particle physics and low energy equipment for microwave spectroscopy and helium liquification for superconductivity, and cryogenic research.
Also, the Air Force, the Army, and ONR identified important groups of scientists whose performance was well recognized during the war, to continue those laboratories, to shift into scientific research and re-establish real graduate physics and engineering education. Let me name a few of the laboratories that were established postwar. The Laboratory of Nuclear Physics and Engineering at MIT, Electrical Engineering at Stanford and Harvard, Research Lab for Electronics at MIT, the Radiation Lab at Columbia, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Scripps Oceanographic Institution received generous support. The cold war period certainly demonstrated the wisdom of this approach, and permitted us again to couple science and the military. Examples are the establishment of the Lincoln Lab at MIT which was formed from a nucleus of the Research Lab of Electronics. With time the National Science Foundation was founded, but it did not receive very much money until 1957, Sputnik. Thus the prior operation that I spoke of assured that the brightest, the most capable, most of them men under 40, returned to again get research and operation in the universities, and provide facilities for graduate instruction. A much longer essay can be written during this period, from 1944, 1945, through 1957, the period when American science was rejuvenated with government money.] But near the end of World War II, we weren't going to build any new weapons to conquer Germany. Japan was collapsing too. So the money we had been receiving in the Navy budget was available and thus there was a law that created the Office of Naval Research.
How did you read at the time their interest in supporting research in the universities? Was it as a result of their experience with the radar effort and the Manhattan project?
Well, it's hard to say. You see, Forrestal was always worried about the strength of the U.S. and thought he'd like to have the universities maintain a relation with the Department of Defense and with the Navy.
A standing relationship.
Yes. They didn't care particularly what they worked on. The aim was to return to research and an intellectual coupling between defense and academia.
Was this because of difficulties that they had encountered in trying to mobilize the academic community for research?
They just felt this would be a good idea in the future to maintain the contacts. It wasn't so much a feeling that basic research itself was going to lead to a spinoff that would help the Navy?
No. In the long term, sure.
I'm wondering what they taught at the time.
I would say it was purely a philosophical posture that they'd like to maintain the contacts. I think that I would still think this is a good thing although it takes two to tango. I think we've lost control of the Department of Defense. Maybe Brown can get it back under control but part of losing control is the loss of contact with academia.
When you say we have lost control, do you mean the executive branch has lost control?
Well, we as the citizens. They've got too much crap going on that's wasteful. They no longer think through what the real problem is.
And you say the break in the connection with the academic community has contributed to that, in that they do their own research now. Is that what you're saying?
No, it isn't a question of doing research even. It's a question of conversation, the controls, the influence. It's a very subtle thing. I'll expand on that. [As the war ended, as the Navy continued its relation with academia, through support of basic research, not weapon research, the men in the Navy who endorsed this approach were then the war and observed the relationship between academia and the Navy Department. They realized that permitting the support of academia with research money, they would continue to have a relationship that was there when needed. At the celebration of ONR's 20th or 25th year anniversary, I don't remember...I have said there was an admiral who was ignorant of the role that academia and ONR had played right after the war. He was not. He was a very young ensign at the time of the war and therefore didn't know what was going on in supporting the fleet and supplying new weapons. So, those military men who understood the function of research and its impact on the military department were retired, and a new crop, full of enthusiasm, full of ignorance, took command.] Willie Fowler and Van Allen got recognition. But it's horrible. So the Office of Naval Research has suffered. The guys who took over R and D for the military after reorganization—there was Herb York. After York, there was Harold Brown, then Johnny Foster. The latest guy came from industry. Johnny Foster started to wreck the Office of Naval Research. The guy who just left wrecked it. We hope Harold Brown could do something about it.
Wrecked it in terms of breaking the connection with the academic community.
No. Insisting that the work had to be related to the Navy; insisted that they had to review it; insisted that the procedure was like weapon acquisition or development of weapons.
When would you say that process began?
This started to erode when Johnny Foster took over the top R and D job.
Brown left eight years ago so that's 1970 something. He left in 1969. He was Secretary with the Air Force.
Well, when the ONR was set up it was set up with support all the way up and down the line in the Navy.
Oh sure. Up and down. Starting with the Secretary of the Navy who became then Secretary of Defense. You see, all the admirals have lived with the civilian thing and they knew it. And the captains. It was an experience that they didn't want the Navy to lose. They backed the Office of Naval Research. As money was given to build all these cyclotrons, the big ones at Columbia, at Chicago, etc.—five hundred thousand volt ones.
Did your position with ONR at that time bring you into contact with those decision making processes that resulted in support for large institutions of that kind?
Sure. I decided we ought to support the linear accelerator at Stanford. I would tell Captain Bob Conrad, let's do it.
Before lunch we were beginning to talk about the growth in large scale funding coming out of the Office of Naval Research itself, in the period 1946, 1947. How early in that period was it clear that the ONR was in a position to support and was interested in funding, let's say, high energy physics research, which is a field which it had not been involved with at all before?
Well, one has to appreciate that there are certain relations and a high respect acquired for certain people. If Fermi wanted a machine in Chicago, I don't see how you could deny him that. You know, there was a very important contributor in Los Alamos. I mean in the Los Alamos project. Similarly at Columbia. At Harvard, Norman Ramsey got a machine. I don't remember who else. Then you've got to appreciate that those of us in ONR understood quite apart from physics that these large machines produce instruments that become very important to society. The whole exercise in the initial building of the Stanford accelerators: The motivation was that this was a good way to develop klystrons—high power klystrons with long life. That was much better when you had no use for them. But eventually if you had a linear accelerator operating, you would have these things in being. It's that subtle consideration. You get technology on the shelf without being committed to make anything.
Was this a conscious motivation of the ONR at that point?
It was very conscious.
You had spoken before about the major goal to maintain a tie with...
Yes, but it has a number of aspects. I mean, another thing was to conserve the groups that were created during the war. The research operation at MIT was turned into the Research Lab of Electronics. It contracted but then it was the laboratory for research in physics and the electrical engineering departments. You made a similar sort of grouping at Harvard where you tried to keep together some of the resources that were at Harvard with regard to the counter measure laboratory. These laboratories shrank in size and the emphasis was on research rather than military application. You had the same sort of thing at Stanford. The electronics people or the radiation lab at Columbia was supported after the war by, in that case, the Signal Corps. But part of the motivation was to keep an expert group in existence and put them into long range work on research of their own choosing.
The Signal Corps was also involved in this.
The Signal Corps and some of these things were joint with the Air Force, but the lead was taken by the Office of Naval Research. One also supported low temperature work and was helped a great deal by the Collings Liquifier that A.D. Little was manufacturing. But ONR supplied money to a number of places to acquire the liquefiers.
Was the ONR budget, let's say in 1946, 1947, exclusively concerned with support outside of the Navy?
No. The ONR budget had three components. One, the Naval Research Lab was part of the ONR structure. Part of that budget went to the Naval Research Lab for their work in what we would call research. Part of the budget went to a group called Special Devices which developed training equipment for the training of pilots. The third group went to the group that supported outside work and that was divided into applied work and research. The applied work was more or less under the general direction of the Naval Officer. The research work was under the direction of a civilian group.
What was the approximate breakdown of the total budget into those three categories?
I'd have to look it up. I would say Naval Research Lab most likely had twenty million, Special Devices fifteen, and the research group in ONR or the one that supported outside research I would guess about fifty million.
This was sufficient to make a major contribution to each of these four or five different projects that you mention?
Oh, sure. And then it also was premature. It started to support radio astronomy before the country was ready. Gave money to Cornell which was a waste of time and a waste of money at that time.
How were decisions made as to who would receive support? Clearly, when Fermi comes to you and says he wants to build something in Chicago there's not much of a problem but after a year or so I would think you'd begin to have serious problems about allocation of the resources that you have.
Well, yes. Every scientific discipline has a different way of doing it. Let me tell you. The biologists always had a peer review operation. The astronomy money was given to a group—National Research Council—to distribute among the astronomy graduate students. The math people, I think, also had a peer review thing. In chemistry and physics one had a feeling one knew the field; one had as good a judgment as any group. You'd make a couple of phone calls. Everything was small. You make some mistakes, like radio astronomy, but so do peer review groups make mistakes.
Was there an in-house civilian authority for each of those specialty fields?
Oh, yes. There was a head of biology, head of physics, head of chemistry. Then once the decision was made, it was reviewed by the director of all that and finally sent down to the chief scientist or deputy chief to let it go—Secretary of the Navy appointment.
For a period you were director of the physical science division?
What differentiated your role as that, rather than what you had been before?
Well, initially I was head of the electronics section. The physical sciences had math, physics, astronomy, chemistry, maybe electronics. To differentiate from the electronics there was a military division head. Then I became deputy chief and chief scientist. So I had everything under me.
But at that point you were mostly reviewing decisions that were made at a low level?
The group is officially small. If you want to initiate something, you just call the guy and say, "Why don't we do that?" There was that informality.
And also the fact that you had essentially complete control over the funding and could do with it, in that military context, essentially what you felt best.
Oceanography or geophysics were under the physical scientists.
Was there ever any growth of resistance to the support of what had by that time become fairly basic research in various sciences?
Well, now and then we'd get a review by some admirals who'd get nervous. By the time we'd spent two weeks educating the review group, they were very pleased with what was happening. There was a rapport with high command of the Navy. The civilian head was appointed by the Secretary of the Navy. So you had an opportunity to go and see him any time. The way I operated, I always kept the top admirals involved. In form I would drop in and sit down and have coffee with them. Never made an appointment. They sat in the Pentagon and we sat across the river in Washington. But there was a tremendous confidence. Now that evaporated as these admirals and captains retired.
Admirals who had been in the wartime...
That began in the early fifties?
Yes. Middle fifties, I would say.
Did that have an influence on your decision to leave?
No. My decision to leave, as I told Rabi, when I was reaching an age when the admirals were going to become my juniors in age, I said, "The hell with it." I wasn't going to stay here and keep educating a new admiral every two or three years—pretty soon I'd be the old man.
But there also was this aspect of the new, younger ones were not so much interested in support of basic research but rather in work more directed toward Navy technology?
Well, those that we got in ONR were, but the high command, others, just weren't exposed. It was a mistake for the Navy to build its own graduate school at Monterey. Because then these guys never get exposed to anything outside the military structure. I guess I fought it, but didn't quite win. The young officers during the war were becoming senior officers without the knowledge of the coupling of civilian scientists with the military during the war. And then there was the Naval Research Advisory Committee. The members of the Committee were all the great names in science. That committee was created by Congress in the bill that created ONR.
Did they exercise an important role?
They did initially. When they would meet, they would end up with a lunch with either the Secretary of the Navy or Chief of Naval Operations. With time, that no longer occurred. They're lucky if they get a lunch with the Assistant Secretary for R and D. You ask why did this erode, I don't know. I was chairman during the period when McNamara was Secretary of Defense. Jim Waklin may have been the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for R and D.
This is later, you're talking about?
Later, later. But it started to erode in, I would say, towards the end of the fifties.
Well, I want to go on to the effect of the formation of the National Science Foundation on the ONR and the influence is back and forth. Because I know they were considerable. But would you tell me something about your position at MIT? You were there two times?
No, I was just there for a year. Just took a year's leave of absence and did research in the Research Lab of Electronics. Left a piece of equipment and two graduate students who finally got their degrees.
What was that research on?
Soft x-rays: Skinner, a British physicist, reported his research and a summary of field, in the Transactions of the Royal Society. We did experiments very similar to those reported by Skinner in the Transactions of the Royal Society before the war, but we concentrated on elements with two outer electrons, rather than copper with one, and we obtained very beautiful pictures of the Fermi levels. The two graduate students, Kingston and Gavoc or something like that, got very good jobs, one in the Bell Telephone Lab, one in the Lincoln Lab. The basic equipment consisted of an electron beam bombarding a metal and the spectral distribution of emitted x-rays was measured in the range below 10 volts. The spectrum from metals duplicated the Fermi levels. At MIT's construction of comparable equipment, the actual measurements were made by two of my graduates. I left after one year's residence.
Was this year of absence motivated by your own feelings of being out of touch with research work at that point?
Yes, just to break away. The two graduate students were doing well. I also taught an intermediate course. I don't remember. About the first semester sophomore physics.
Well, one of the reasons that one can pick out without any direct knowledge of the field for the declining influence of ONR was the formation of the National Science Foundation which presumably would take over some of the responsibilities for basic research.
No. You're going much too fast. You've got to realize the Science Foundation the first year got only about a half million dollars to get started. And the initial law that created the Science Foundation gave a ceiling to the expenditures of 15 million dollars a year. That had to be. So it took about four years to break that ceiling.
I was under the impression that in the first fiscal year the ceiling had been removed.
Well, but then the first fiscal year was half a million; the second was about three million.
Took a while to build it up.
And you got to understand that there was a great deal of subtle opposition that we exercised against the Science Foundation. There was opposition not only from me to protect ONR because many of the people who went over with Waterman went from ONR. They were mostly in the biological sciences not in the physical. The National Institute of Health just didn't want the Science Foundation to get big. They had much more leverage in Congress. It doesn't have to be very open. One of the reasons was that the National Institute of Health intended to dominate biology. They've certainly succeeded in that. The bill that created the Science Foundation gave them responsibility of national science policy and a sort of pulling together research. Didn't give them any responsibility in the military. It's a natural reaction that you don't want any more supervisory groups around and the Science Foundation never got hold of that problem of national science policy or tried to understand.
Or an evaluation role for other federal agencies.
Yes. Now they're being pressured into doing it. So initially, there was within Washington a commitment among some of us to let the Science Foundation grow slowly quite apart from Congress. You don't get it growing with any vigor until after Sputnik.
Yes, I know there was a dramatic increase in the budget.
And that was due to the intervention of Killian who was then science adviser to Eisenhower. Then when Jerry Weisner was science adviser to Kennedy, he intervened again to help.
As I understand it, it was Waterman's position at the very first that he didn't want to have anything to do with passing judgement on other federal research precisely for the reason that that if anything would kill the NSF.
Well, that's right. He sense the existence of other groups that would cross swords with him. He had enough problems getting his own budget and his own house moving.
What was your relationship to him at ONR before he went over to the NSF?
Very warm. I was, I guess, his understudy or everyone understood that. We had different styles. If a grant was made, he would always call the president of the university and tell him about it. I would never do that.
Do you think that that difference in style could be attributed primarily to differences in funding for the two agencies? I mean, one coming from the Navy...
No. Even when he was at ONR, he had the same style.
I see. He would do this when he was at ONR.
Yes. He would do it in the Science Foundation but things had got too large to be able to do it. I would never do that. One has to appreciate that Alan Waterman was of the generation of Bush, Condon, etc. Therefore these were his contacts with the universities. In contrast, my contacts were the people at the bench, people who were about 40 years old, and therefore I didn't feel quite at home to telephone a president of a university and tell him what was happening. I would deal directly with my contemporaries. He came for a prior generation. He was associated with Bush, Conant and K. T. Compton. While my contemporaries were Berkeley people like, Alvarez and McMillan, at MIT Zacharias and at Columbia, Rabi. There was a ten year gap and that made quite a difference. All these people were more on the firing line during the war than Waterman was, working with Bush. He may have been closer to policy. So we were much more of an activist group than the prior generation.
Waterman was with the ONR from the start, was he not?
Yes, from before it was ONR.
Do you feel that the differences in operations between the ONR and the NSF affected the kind of research that they tended to support? For example, as I understand it, the ONR tended to finance research primarily through contracts and the notion of looser structure of grant support was something new with the NSF.
There's a complete lack of understanding difference between the two. There's hardly any difference. It all depends on how you administer. There's been a lot of debate and the silliest things. Because if you got any complaint or something, you just call up the contracting office or the accountants and say, "Cut it out," and it would stop immediately.
So there was no effective difference?
No effective operation difference. Initially, ONR was much more of a gambling operation. The Science Foundation never have given philosophical support to the Stanford accelerator. Our conflict in nuclear physics was with the AEC; we wanted them to take a greater and greater share. Or we wanted them to give us money and keep our contracts. Jim Fisk, who was the first director of research at the Atomic Energy Commission, was easier to work with. Ken Pitzer was much more conscious of having his little shop. When the ONR budget started to go down, we had a hell of a time to get the AEC to take over those big machines, but they did.
That happened before the SLAC request came in, was that right?
No. There were two things. One, there's a billion volt machine that—what's his name?
Well, Hanson was involved, and Chowderow and Ginzton. I was thinking of Bob Hofstadter. He got the Nobel Prize on it.
The ONR support for the extension of the Hanson machine essentially.
Yes. SLAC has got quite a different history. That is quite independent. So one has to differentiate between the two. They are still both operative.
When you speak of the AEC being reluctant to take over the funding, you're speaking of the earlier machine.
Yes, earlier. SLAC is another issue.
Well, did any of these administrative differences, for example, of the NSF being willing to allow equipment bought on grants stay with the institution or differences in patent rights. Did any of that have any significance?
No. Because the silliest thing in the world when you build a big machine and you terminate the contract, you're not going to remove it. You might make some arrangements with the university to buy it for $1. Now, one has to be very careful. It's one thing for the physicist not to give a damn. To the biologist, it was very important, a highly emotional thing. Similarly to the mathematicians. If you ask me why, I don't know.
This is with respect to what?
To contracts or grants. Once the National Institute of Health started to have grants and then recently moved into the contract thing, they really took the contract administration seriously.
But that was later.
That was later.
What about fellowship support? That was something that ONR was not involved in, is that right?
No. They couldn't. They would be generous in support of research, assistance and all that. But in fellowships, this was a line item in the Science Foundation's budget. We never tried to get it. However, we did get from the Bureau of the Budget even under contracts to increase the life of the contract. We told them to give us money so we could allocate it for three-five years. This will not modify the annual treasury withdrawals. The Bureau of the Budget was very fond of the Office of Naval Research.
Was ONR separately funded from the Navy?
Well, it was always a line item in the Navy.
I see. So the Bureau of the Budget had some control over it. Is there anything else that you can think of that should be mentioned about that conflict between ONR and NSF in the early years?
Nothing of any consequence, really. There was very much concern that the Science Foundation may put us out of business.
Do you think that's what eventually happened after you left?
No, I think it's just Vietnam all those things, much greater …
The changing attitude of the military.
The military, the country. I mean, the Mansfield Amendment, a few other things like that. Because ONR is still highly regarded in many places. They'd rather do business with ONR than the Science Foundation.
What was your own personal relationship with the Navy in all of this? In all of those years? Did you feel that you identified at all with the Navy?
I think the Navy, the admirals, saw ONR as a cute operation. They liked my style of operation. I mean, as simple as that. Now and then the admiral who ran ONR would be a little concerned that I would always be talking to people who were his superiors. But I would normally tell him I met with the Secretary of the Navy or Adms. Briscoe or Lowe and I would tell him what the conversation was about. But I felt that I was working with the Secretary of the Navy. Not necessarily for the Chief of Naval Research.
So that gave you a greater degree of flexibility.
Flexibility, assurance that we were getting support and not relying on someone else through standard Navy channels, which is a subtle difference but a very important one.
In this period of time between, let's say, 1946 and by the time you left ONR in 1955, had the attitude shifted away from a desire to maintain contact between the military and the academic community per se to expecting technological spinoff?
No. You got to understand that during that period we had a war with Korea. Because of the contacts we were able to mount some studies, like the Hartwell study on the submarine warfare problem that Admiral Sherman—then Chief of Naval Operations—was actually involved in. He saw how helpful the thing was. We then spun off part of the research lab of electronics at MIT and made it into the Lincoln Lab. Never mind that it was completely supported by the Air Force. Then we were able to take a group at Columbia and start the Hudson Lab. So these people saw that period that when the chips were down, we could muster resources that otherwise would not be available. After that the thing sort of went downhill. One had a lot of contacts. The whole government was small, was involved in the initial attempt to get a science adviser to the President, which is another bit of history. I had contacts with Strauss, who was then at the Atomic Energy Commission or someplace around. So that being in Washington for a long time you developed a chain of relationships that made life easier to operate and coordinate and keep people from stabbing you in the back.
How did this issue of what eventually became PSAC begin to arise? Was this purely through the science adviser to the President?
That is another bit of history. To start, there was always some kind of science adviser in the Federal government. Bush was such a person during the war years. But when Truman was President, after the war, they had a science adviser to the President who was part-time. And there was a committee. Unfortunately, I was involved because the retired president of the Bell Telephone Lab was given the job, Oliver Buckley. He found me useful as a contact. His general attitude was to keep the government out of everything. When Eisenhower came in, the chairman of the board of that group was part-time, Lee DuBridge and then Rabi. A study was started known as the Roland Gaither Report on what our military policy ought to be. The report had a profound effect—and that whole science advisory operation became much more significant. It reported at that time to Fleming, Director of Emergency Management in the Executive Offices of the President. And then Sputnik went loose and Eisenhower decided to have a full time adviser and that committee moved directly under the President and became PSAC. Now, one has to appreciate a number of things. The present committees, or the past committees before Nixon abolished them, never quite operated as did the first early committees. And no one is willing to face up to the problem. There are two aspects to that. The principal problem was basically with the military. You had to use them and control their technology. The committee itself was composed of people who knew each other and knew how to work with each other. The members had a close association with each other. From the war contacts the office had confidence in committee members. So you could have very strong and ugly discussions without anyone's feelings being hurt.
There were five on the committee?
No, twelve, thirteen, fifteen.
I didn't know it was that much.
Yes. Second, all these people on committee have been in touch with people in government through the war. So they had special entree and were respected. With time, there was a silly notion that you ought to have a west coast representative or a sociologist. You ought to have MD's and all of that. So you lost that intimacy. And you've lost real contact with the operational parts of the government. Of course, now all the presentations were more formal. You couldn't go over and pick up a phone and get some bits of information that somehow you needed. There it went. So now, Frank Press is going to take over the job, a geophysicist. I don't know whether he'll have a committee.
Well, let's talk about the operation of PSAC in that specific case that we've now touched on, mentioned two or three times, and that is SLAC and the big contract for SLAC. Was there a special panel?
I don't know. Bob Bacher was head of a committee: "Where Does Nuclear Physics Go?" for the Science Foundation. They issued a report. My impression was that they didn't quite appreciate the drive for big machines yet. This must have been in the fifties when the Science Foundation was still in the old Cosmos Club before it moved. Then, I think, when Glen Seaborg became chairman of AEC, there was a realization that machines were going to be expensive. And there was a joint committee between PSAC and AEC on big machines. I was chairman of the committee. With time, Leland Haworth became chairman.
This was after the National Accelerator Laboratory had been set up.
Oh, yes. The Brookhaven thing occurred right after the war.
Yes. But I'm wondering about this notion of all of a sudden we're confronted with a larger scale expenditures than before.
Well, first of all you've got to understand the initial machine at Brookhaven was just three billion volts. The thirty-two billion volt machine comes much later.
So that thirty two billion volt machine we're talking about in this...
Yes. This is the beginning. Because you see even the Hill in Berkeley had the six or eight million volts, I don't remember. They never went through this process. This was all internal decisions in AEC when the thing starts going over close to one hundred million dollars to build. You try to find out where the hell are we going. So the first group really was the beginning of the Fermi Lab Machine. Never mind that it gets going much later. And that discussion basically went after a machine that was two hundred billion volts. We talked about a billion volt machine, you know, a thousand million, and our general attitude then was that we'd better make a deal with the Russians. Have it a joint thing going. This conversation never got off the ground.
This was in PSAC?
Yes, this joint committee in PSAC. Simply when one tries to understand the way we build machines and the way the Russians build machines—that when we give a contract say, for magnets, we're right in there in the shop and make sure. The Russians wouldn't permit Americans to go into one of their plants. This was a discussion thing and I think that prompted both Brookhaven and the Hill at Berkeley to start designing these machines or thinking in terms of a large one. Then there was a continuing committee and I was chairman. I had to miss a lot of meetings and Leland Haworth took over again—one has to look at notes. That ended up with saying that we ought to build the electron accelerator, SLAC. We had a conversation—PSAC met in Puerto Rico then, for a week or so. And one of the items was whether we wanted to recommend this machine to the President. Rabi was against it. This was more than an east coast/west coast sort of problem. Rabi resented all the resources on the West Coast for nuclear physics. For particle physics.
There were some technical arguments that made it difficult to imagine turning SLAC into the kind of useful laboratory that, for example, a synchrotron might be. There was a bad duty cycle and there were some questions as to whether or not one was really going to be able to make this compatible enough with different investigators coming in all the time.
Well, I think that argument has been shot to pieces by Fermi Lab because they've got the switch yard thing.
A lot of that hadn't been worked out. But I'm just wondering whether or not it might not have been behind some of the opposition in the early days, too.
Well, then we decided to go the President with it at that meeting. And Killian and I went to President Eisenhower with it and the President got enthusiastic. He said, "Let's go." Even asked his aide, "Well, maybe we can get this through the Military Affairs Committee rather than through the AEC." He says there's so much red tape. And his aide said, "You can't do that. You'd better go clean." McCone was then chairman of the AEC. He resented that a great deal.
He resented the attempt to go around?
No. To order him to build something that didn't organize in AEC. He was beside himself as far as looking at me. He tried to call me, take me out to lunch. What magic I had! Well, that went through. The most important thing was that Peef (Panofsky) was ready. Both of these machines—Fermi and SLAC—people don't realize that the most important thing is to have guys like Wilson and Panofsky committed. I mean, one of the reasons that the deep sea drilling never went anywhere was that there was no geophysicist or oceanographer who would commit his career, who was bright and respected or something. It took time finally to have deep sea drilling approved by the NSF.
Panofsky was on PSAC at that time?
I'm not sure.
It was near then.
He could have been. He was on and off. Wilson certainly was not. So it went through. I don't remember whether we had hearings before Congress on this SLAC or the National Accelerator Lab, but I know Kistiakowsky—who was dead set against it—was one of the panelists sitting in front of the committee. And at the waltz many of us crossed our fingers. We didn't know what kind of testimony Kisti would give. But he testified for it even though.
What arguments would Kistiakowsky and Rabi give in the meetings?
Kisti, I don't remember. First, let me observe that in these arguments on the machines in the committees—the committee I had or the committee I had jointly with Leland—you couldn't get theoreticians to say it's important to have. They wouldn't stick their necks out.
They would always say we don't know what...
We don't know, but it's nice to have it. And every time you would try to ask what would we learn in terms of physics and look at a theoretician, you'd get a blank stare. Some nice words, but no commitment. Now, whether this was what bothered Kisti, I don't know. I don't remember.
But in a sense, don't you face that problem with the funding of any truly basic research? You don't know what's going to come out of it.
Oh, you have some idea. You know the ballpark where you're going to play ball. You may get surprises but just the way you instrument the thing you make some decisions about where your answer will be or what you expect as an answer. You don't quite believe that but that's philosophically the...
Of course with high energy accelerators it gets very difficult to do that. One really doesn't know.
They didn't. Now, what else can I tell you?
Well, there were other aspects surrounding SLAC that made it slightly different from other things that the AEC had been supporting up to that time. Panofsky was very much opposed to instituting the kind of tight security controls that AEC had been putting on projects up until that time. I was wondering whether that sort of thing created problems.
You got that sort of nonsense going on all the time. You have got to fight it. ERDA has cut down on foreign travel, foreigners working and you get these government administrators who run into that. I mean, after all, ONR, even when Pauling was raising all hell, we always kept him on the committee or chairman of the committee on chemistry in ONR. You just have to intercede and tell the guys to cut it out. They come and tell you, "Look, what an evil man Pauling is." And you say, "Well, he can't do any evil and it's important that we have a martyr. Go away.
And you could get away with that?
There's no question in the military. You see, intelligence can only advise a command. It can't order a command to do anything. The command can say, "Thank you very much for the information but we're going to proceed this way."
And that was generally the way it was done.
That was the way it was done. You get all the information; you say, "We know that, thank you, but this is in the national interest." I'm sure that's how you should treat the FBI but many of the agencies don't. I got the money out of Congress; it's my responsibility to deliver and I know what I'm doing.
Was there any feeling at this time—1960, let's say—that there was a limit? That this kind of basic research was going to have to slow down; that we were going to be able to continue to fund larger and larger projects? Or did it seem fairly open ended at that time?
No. You have the Bureau of the Budget always asking or taking the position, "Look, we're training more and more graduate students." The only thing we're doing is producing more and more demand on the Federal government to give money. So, you have slowly in the 1960s the amount of money available for research reaching an asymptote. Now it's started to go up again a little bit.
Was this seen in 1960?
It was not seen by us. But the notion that you can't continue to expand that was an annual sort of argument with the Bureau of the Budget. Not an argument, a concern, a discussion.
But you didn't feel that this issue got into the Congress yet. I mean, the Congress would give its support?
Yes, they would support it.
You had connections with the National Science Foundation or with the National Science Board? Is that right? At that same period of time.
Oh, sure. I was on board from 1961 until about 1969 or 1970.
And the feelings we were just talking about with respect to the support of the Congress for this kind of large scale venture, were these shared by the NSF at that time? The feeling that one could count on the Congress for support of research of this magnitude and could continue to count on for a few more years at least?
Oh, yes. There was more of a problem, let me say, the Nixon Administration of trying to emphasize applied work. Well, first you have got to realize that the NSC Board has never taken a stand on anything. Except one or two things like—what's the mathematician in Berkeley who raised hell in Russia? Stephen Smaile, or something. Things like that. They never opposed the Bureau of the Budget on anything. They never opposed the Bureau of the Budget when they cut funds for fellowships. They took whatever the director would give them and swallowed it. Now they've run into trouble recently, you know. Now the board has over-reacted by building up a staff of its own, independent of the director's staff and that means that with time, there'll be profound conflict. Now, what I mean by that is that a lot of us knew that the educational program, the revision of curriculum was a questionable thing. You could never get the director and the board and his staff to deal with it. Some of us were highly critical in the situation.
The director never reacted. You never got any backing from the other members of the board. Again, this happens when you have a board that represents all fields, all parts of the nation, all groups, blacks, Jews, Catholics and all that. The Congress has gone after the board on budgets occasionally on research. They've gone after curriculum revision; they've always been generous in having summer institutes for high school teachers. Always generous. They have now started to go after the social sciences. Now, in spite of all this, the budget has been growing. The growth of that budget has permitted the Science Foundation to take over stuff that ONR has to drop. It's permitted some taking over what other parts of the Pentagon Building has dropped, like all the damn solid state institutes. The National Science Foundation is going to be there for a long time. It's becoming more and more bureaucratic. It has lost its gambling attitude. That's all I can say. Supporting research doesn't put them in mainstream of getting their names in the paper. So they have something called RAND — Research, you know, the Associate of National Needs or whatever. Everyone who has reviewed that says it's lousy. You can't stop it. Well, that's my general attitude now. It's going to get a billion dollars. But it's lost its effectiveness and it's lost its leadership position in the scientific community. And now with Schlesinger taking over all of energy, I don't know what's going to happen to the Fermi Lab or SLAC or other operations like that. Because ERDA didn't understand it.
There was a time when your name was under consideration for the directorship of the National Science Foundation.
I knew about one time.
First time was Kennedy when Waterman retired. Jerry Weisner was science adviser. It was a fight between Tom Watson and Kennedy. I talked to Kennedy. And Tom was a close friend of the Kennedys and somehow I was put in the position where they knew they had to make one or the other guy unhappy. And I chose to stay with IBM. The second time was Nixon wanted me to take it when Leland Haworth left. DuBridge was science adviser. He offered me the job. I said I wanted to talk to the President. It's going to be a Presidential appointment. DuBridge says why? I said, "Well, most likely that's the only time I'll see the President." So then next time they got Kissinger involved and Kissinger worked me over. He said, "Why do you want to see the President? I said, "I want to see the color of his eyes." I stuck to that position. The President stuck to his position. And that's it.
There was a bit of a flap over that appointment, as I recall.
Yes. After that they went after Long. Oh well, I've been offered a lot of jobs. [When Kennedy became President, he gave the responsibility of NASA to his Vice President, Johnson. Johnson offered me the job to be director of NASA. This was in the early days of Kennedy's Administration. I turned it down, and they were shocked, and I told them, this is not my dish of tea, period. Jim Webb was appointed then director of NASA, and every time we met, Jim would go after me, why did I turn the job down? When I told him, it was not my dish of tea, he never quite believed me.] Rusk wanted me to go the State Department. I said, "I'll go if you give me an assistant secretaryship." He said, "Well, you'll be reporting to me." I said, "That won't help me to deal with the CIA." And Tom Watson raised hell with me because he had dinner with Rusk and Rusk told him he was going after me. And Tom said, "You know, you never told me." I said, "I never expected to take the job. Why should I take it?"
How were you first approached by IBM? This was in the early 1960s?
No, 1956, 1957. Well, IBM vice president called me. He was vice president of engineering. I met with him and had lunch with the executive vice president, Red LaMotte. I told AVCO you have no job for me; you gave me a title but I have nothing to do. You got Kantrowitz, you don't need me. It was a very warm departure.
You had only been there a year.
A year. Soon found out they just wanted me for show. They wouldn't let me assume responsibility.
Were there specific things you felt you could profitably work on at IBM?
Oh, sure. They wanted me to establish a research division. I built them a research division. Gave them a building. They now are doing well. They even give invited papers at the Physical Society. [In retrospect, the most important thing I did for IBM was to make their research operation visible and highly respected, because the community knew that I wouldn't do anything trivial. This sounds like boasting, but in retrospect, my greatest contribution to IBM research was to have IBM research become a respected member of the scientific community.]
But there wasn't too much in the way of high level scientific research work being done by IBM at that time. Is that right?
And this was their maiden effort.
Well, basically, yes. You had the Watson Lab at Columbia that had Garwin, L. H. Thomas, Brillouin, and Eckart. But as a going concern, what you're saying is perfectly right.
My impression is that some of the early people who were trying to push the company toward what we now would consider a modern view of digital computers, ran into a great deal of difficulty, ran into a certain amount of opposition. Aitkin and Grosch and...
Oh, yes. Because they wanted to control the company. There was no opposition to listening to von Neumann. And you've got to understand that here had to be a change of command from the old man to young Watson and the old man didn't understand. He didn't think there was much in electronics. You had to go through that transition. I came in about a year after Tom [Junior?] was in command.
And had made that transition.
Yes. There was no question who was in charge. His father was completely out.
With respect to his conversion from electro-mechanical systems to electronics...
Electronics, very much so. You had to have basically the new generation to take over. That was really the delay in all this.
So you job was essentially to set that research pattern up.
Yes. And to get people in and have it accepted as a continuing expense in the corporation. You know, I was on the board of directors and all that, so I had a lot of leverage.
You never ran into resistance? I mean, the commitment had been made?
Yes. Every year annually on budget time, I would have to do a little fussing. You always bargain on budgets.
Is that a different kind of industrial experience than you had had before at RCA, CBS?
Oh, very much so.
Is it higher pressure in that respect?
Not higher pressure. I was much more in a policy making position. To tell Tom, "You can't do this."
And he would listen to that.
When I would take that strong a position, he would listen. How he would execute it would be something else. I wouldn't permit anyone to punch a clock in the labs. Even though IBM was making clocks. Tom tried to deal with it once or twice. Never quite directly.
Was it clear by this early period—say in the late 1950s—which direction electronics was moving. I mean, the whole field has changed so dramatically in the last twenty years.
Well, it was clear. You saw a very broad outline, a very broad outline. You didn't know your derivatives. Now and then you would undertake something and it was a self-serving prophecy: you put enough money. And one made mistakes. I guess I put too much money in cryogenics, way prematurely.
What did you hope to accomplish there? Just to increase efficiency?
Well, basically what you want to do is change energy states and you want to do it with a minimum amount of energy. Basically if you get near absolute zero, you are going to change states with less energy.
That was the basic motivation?
Yes. And also that's the motivation of making things smaller and smaller. The transistor permitted that. Take the cores even initially. You start it going to smaller and smaller cores just because it'd be easier to switch them, less material to switch.
And less time, too.
Less time. But time usually also meant more power. You had to give it a bigger kick. That's why we went into thin magnetic films, for basically the same reason. Then transistors, semi-conductors came along which won out.
Was it clear from the start that you had to move to transistors?
Oh, yes, yes. Just on power consumption. But it wasn't clear how many active elements you could put on say, one square centimeter. This has a lot of micro-chemistry involved which no one was working on, and fabrication techniques.
Did you get into that as part of your research effort there?
Oh, sure, sure. Then we'd have something we'd put so much current through certain very thin strips of aluminum that you'd have migration of aluminum and a circuit would open up. The whole problem of trying to understand why aluminum migrates into high current densities. It's still a problem people don't quite understand.
Well, I don't want to take up a lot of time on the technical problems at IBM. But there is one issue that has always interested me. Maybe you have an interesting point of view on it.
Yes, I'll send you some things down.
There are government controls on the export of computer materials to Eastern bloc nations. I'm wondering how that all got started and when it was realized that this was a strategic matter?
Computers? I think it was realized almost immediately. Because, you see, you have got to understand that making codes and breaking them was one of the uses of computers during the war. People lose track that much of the initial manpower in the computer industry came from those groups. Never mind Johnny von Neumann. The universities don't train people for computers until much later. One of the largest computer installations is the National Security Agency where they still try to break all the codes, find out what people are putting on the air, automatically.
So those controls were all automatically put into effect. There was never any problem from IBM's point of view about closing off the potential market or anything?
Sure, I mean, they wouldn't let us ship the very high computer to France. I talked to McBundy. He was then in the White House. I told him, "Well, DeGaulle will get the damn thing. It'll just take longer." Just by long hand calculations. He says, "That's fine. This will delay it. This is just what we want to have as policy." So it takes them longer to have a nuclear weapon.
So these controls were originally on European nations.
On everybody. And then there's an agreement between the NATO nations and the U.S. that they will not ship certain things. Now it's being eroded for a lot of reasons. But that control goes back to the beginning of NATO—North Atlantic Alliance.
Okay, and then one other thing. How did IBM get interested in the educational business? They purchased Science Research Associates and you were closely connected with that. I was wondering how that diversification occurred.
Well, there was a period when all the large companies were buying publishing houses. General Electric started something with Time-Life, Inc. RCA bought something. Xerox got something. The initial notion that computers will play a role in education, which they haven't yet, that having the publishing house that's highly creative, imaginative, specializing in elementary textbooks and elementary supplementary material was that it would be helpful in understanding where computers fit into the educational plan. It hasn't worked out that way but that was the thinking behind it.
It still may work out.
Yes, it may. But it's not an easy thing.
How would you characterize your general attitude and philosophy about the problems of trying to do basic research in an industrial context? I'm thinking back to Frank Jewett's objections to the National Science Foundation, saying that this kind of thing really is done better by private industry. What's your general feeling about that?
Well, there's no problem. My general view—I guess I ought to give you some things I wrote—but there are a number of things one has to say. The first thing you've got to understand that when you hire fresh a Ph.D., he wants to do research. He never asks, "I want to do an interesting problem." And half of them are not capable. You got to sort of understand how to deal with it. You don't give a guy complete freedom to do research until you have some conviction that he knows how to do it. And the average Ph.D. doesn't. I'll tell you why you do this. Number two, you decide that some are to the labs budget on research is not controlled by the corporation or anyone else but by the director of research. That agreement I had. In the applied area—applied research—we want to make sure the company understands what's going on. Number three, one of the purposes of research is to be coupled to what's going on in the scientific area in universities.
The only way you can understand what's going on is if you do your own research and have a conversational mode. If you haven't that then the company really doesn't understand what's going on and how it may impact its future technology. To me, that's a cardinal reason for having a research operation. Just to have that function performed, you got to give people freedom and they've got to be good people. There's another aspect. The research people set certain standards that get through the company. Because some research people move into applied areas, go into the engineering thing, this standard setting is very important to maintain discipline among engineers who have a conviction that anything they touch will work. And then you have got to come and rectify the errors. You see, the function of research is not to create new products. That's the notion that people have. That's a tremendous fallacy. It's sheer accident that they get involved, the engineers, the applied guys. But research also has to be around for fire drills when a manufacturing process falls down, to understand the reasons it's down there. And so you've got a lot of functions. I haven't tried to give it in any order of importance. Most people don't understand these things, unfortunately.
I see. So part of your job as a research director is to convince the company that that's the way it should be done.
That's the way it should be done. Once they have confidence, they leave you alone.
Is this usually on the basis of your personal credibility then? Or is it a matter of recognition of the fact that basic research...
Internally, most of it has to be on credibility. Guys haven't got that much time. You can tell it to them but they may not even understand it.
But there are benefits that come through. You just can't expect them. The fact that they do come through is what makes the people continue to support research.