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Interview of Anthony Siegman by Joan Bromberg on 1984 January 23, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4890
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This interview deals with Siegman's education, from 1949 to 1957, as an undergraduate at Harvard University, Hughes Aircraft Company work-study fellow at the University of California in Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University. Also prominently mentioned are: Hubert Heffner, Rudolf Kompfner, Frederick Emmons Terman, Ping K. Tien, Dean A. Watkins, Joseph Weber, and John R. Whinnery.
I'm in the office of Professor Anthony Siegman at Stanford University, and we're going to talk about his education and how he got into the field of quantum electronics. You were educated in electrical engineering and applied physics weren't you?
I was an undergraduate at Harvard, and Harvard as you know does not have a school of engineering, although it once did. They have a division which at that time was called Engineering Science and Applied Physics (ESAP). They seemed to permute those words every few years and change the name of the division. I went there in autumn of 1949 and graduated in June of 1952. One little side note that I remember from then is that some of the earliest work on detecting the radiation from hydrogen molecules in space was being done at Harvard at that time by a man named Ewen, "Doc" Ewen. As I was doing one afternoon some kind of a laboratory course work there was a guy on a catwalk outside the window, Ewen was his name, who was working with a large horn antenna that looked like something that one would collect rainfall in. Another student and I asked him what he was doing, and he told us he was watching hydrogen atoms flip over in space he was looking at the 1420 megahertz hydrogen line.
Is that the twenty-one centimeter?
Twenty-one centimeter line, and so although we didn't realize it, that was extremely important stuff he was doing, and of course that was later one of the applications for microwave masers. The low noise maser was used later on to do more sensitive detection of that line. So this would have been '51 or '52 something like that.
What were you exposed to, in terms of courses and so on, in that kind of program? Did they teach you quantum mechanics or atomic physics or circuit theory or what?
I haven't thought about that in a long time, and don't have clear memories. I graduated in three years, actually, on an accelerated program and so I think I had a very solid grounding in fundamentals but not a lot of practical engineering. I would say that, although I got a very solid grounding in fundamentals at Harvard, I think I felt later on when I got into graduate school that the pace at which I was learning advanced technical material was enormously larger in graduate school. That isn't intended in any way as a criticism of Harvard or of the education. I think it was just the natural progression of things. But I really felt that when I began to study electric-magnetic theory, quantum theory and the like in graduate school, that the pace at which I learned new ideas speeded up greatly.
Right then you had people like Purcell and Bloembergen was just coming into the Division of Applied Sciences and of course Pound was there. I guess Van Vleck was the head of the Division.
He could have been. I was very young and naive at that time, and I didn't have any ideas as to what my future career would be... I don't have a vision, a goal, a picture of the future. I was just being a very good student and making good progress. But I don't remember really encountering any of those people. I don't really remember from whom I took courses. I don't remember encountering any of those people, although they certainly would have been there.
And you don't remember anything, any motivation or any pretty good directions you were in at that point?
No. I was not a very introspective type, I guess, and I didn't have much of a plan or goal or feeling as to where I was headed.
But you knew you wanted to get an EE degree of some sort?
Well, engineering and science of some sort, yes.
Engineering and science?
So then how did you choose, let's see, you went down then to the University of California…
I received a fellowship, a co-op plan fellowship from the Hughes Aircraft Company. This was an Honors Co-op Plan that was quite a revolutionary thing as a matter of fact. I believe that I was on it the first year that it existed. It has developed and continued and expanded since then. Hughes Aircraft had, I believe, some assistance or funding possibly from the Air Force to implement this plan. It was a co-op plan where you worked half the time at Hughes, in one of the laboratories there, and there were about a hundred students on it I think.
At Los Angeles?
In Culver City.
At that time the Hughes Research Laboratories were in Culver City. Malibu didn't yet exist. As I said, I think this Was the first year of the plan. Students worked something like 24 hours a week and also sent either to USC or UCLA at that time. The program, I think, may have later been expanded to include Cal Tech and so on. It was just for a Master's degree and it took you about two years to get the Master's degree in this fashion.
How'd you come to get that?
Well, my memory is very fuzzy on that and on just how I did, how or why. I'm sure I interviewed with people from Hughes Aircraft when they came to Harvard to the placement office there and I can't remember even what other things I considered. I think it was partly being a co-op plan and fairly attractive financially that attracted me but I haven't thought about that in a long time and I really don't remember.
Well, you know maybe we'll want to go back and fill in next time. Do you have any memories of the experience at Hughes?
Yes, as I say, I think things really began to come alive when I got to Hughes. I had a very good undergraduate academic record, and I was put with one other student into what was called the Electron Tube Laboratory, which was quite a research place at that time. This was just a few years after the travelling wave tube had been invented by John Pierce at Bell Labs and by Ruby Kompfner, and Hughes was one of the leading places in this field. The other fellow who was with me on the co-op plan in the Electron Tube Laboratory (there were just two of us) was Orion "Orrie" Hock, who later became President of Litton. I fact I think he's now President of Litton Industries. And at the time that I was there, which would have been the beginning of the summer of '52, John Whinnery, of Ramo and Whinnery text book fame, was there for a year on sabbatical from Berkeley and so I had immediate contact with him. My first supervisor there was Dean A. Watkins. And when he left to come to Stanford a year or so later the second supervisor was H. Richard Johnson, Dick Johnson. They later co-founded the Watkins-Johnson Company which was very successful in microwave government equipment. The field of microwave tubes at that time was a very lively and stimulating field. A lot of concepts were coming out of that, coupled waves and the ideas of slow waves and negative energy waves. A lot of very bright people were working on all kinds of things, people who later went into the laser field. There was a complicated chain of connections in this, in that Watkins had gotten his Ph.D. at Stanford, working I believe for Lester M. Field, and other Stanford Ph.D. graduates of that same era including Ping K. Tien's who is now at Bell Labs, Quate, who was at Bell Labs and is now a professor at this University. Interestingly, Tien's daughter, Julia, has just gotten her Ph.D. from this lab in this past year. Anyway… Okay, you asked about the device research conference?
Well, before you leave here, do you remember what you were particularly doing there?
At that point, this had nothing yet to do with lasers on masers although it was microwaves. The travelling wave tube as well as other types of tubes were the subject of intense research at that time. The travelling wave tube uses a helix which propagates a wave. I was put to work trying to couple from a co-axial cable into a travelling wave tube helix by impedance matching the end and using a slotted line to measure wave ratio, something done by an automated Hewlett-Pachard instrument these days. I remember being very crestfallen when I dropped one of those tubes and broke it. Then, I began doing some studies of propagation on the helix, measuring the interaction impedance between the helix and electron beam, using something that was known as the Kompfner dip after Rudy Kampfner. I published an early paper on that with Watkins and that may have been my first published paper. I also did some studies of helices that were artificially loaded with stripes to give them a periodic passband structure in various ways, and let's see...
That would be pretty much on your bibliography?
That would be on the bibliography. I guess where this leads into quantum electronics is that I think a lot of the concepts, coupled modes, and coupled wave theory and general understanding of waves and group velocity and phase velocity and so on that came out of that all turned out to be useful in later years.
Well, it's just very interesting also just in terms of the education of an engineer to understand a little bit about this kind of thing.
Well, I was in the physics department at UCLA, but it was a so-called applied physics program. They gave a Master’s degree in applied physics from the physics department, and I'm not sure why I chose that over electrical engineering. I think it seemed more fundamental and I think it was probably a good choice. So at that point I was taking quantum theory and more advanced electro-magnetic theory courses, probably things like probability and statistics and that sort of thing.
Were there people there who were as influential as the Hughes experience?
At UCLA? No. No, I think we drove up to UCLA, went to classes and immediately left so we had very little contact with the campus, the campus life, or the faculty members. The personal interactions and so on were all at Hughes, at work.
I see, so it was really like the situation where you have people hired and then you also allow them to pursue their degrees?
Yes. Of course Stanford has a co-op plan very much like that with local industry except that we took courses at a somewhat higher rate. We took nearly half-time work whereas many of the co-op plans, at least the ones that Stanford is involved in, the employees are nearly full-time employees and take one or two courses at a time. I can remember we actually had to punch time clocks. We were supposed to work 24 hours a week and there were some complaints I remember at some point, a few months into the program, because many of us were working more than 24 hours a week, and if we punched in for more than 24 hours a week they legally had to pay us and that wasn't part of the plan. So we would actually go and punch out and then go back to the lab to put in more time and keep the recorded hours at 24.
And you say this was a very researchy atmosphere. I'm trying also to get a little feeling for what it's like at these various labs, for example Bell Telephone versus someplace like Hughes versus a lab, little place like Spectra-Physics. How does Hughes fit in?
Hughes at that point was as it still is a large aerospace corporation. There was a considerable variation through the company, even through the research labs. I mean the major portion of the company was doing things like developing radar systems and developing communications systems and I think they were doing some very exciting things relating to satellites even at that time, which I didn't know much about. I think most of the co-op students in other areas were doing somewhat more mundane things. They were still advanced technical things but they were close to research frontiers than the tube laboratory, in particular, which was a very research-oriented atmosphere; applied kind of research, understanding of travelling wave tubes and their properties and developing the theory and so forth and so on.
Did they have things like seminars and speakers? Was that part of the whole scene, or informal luncheons?
I think they may have had some but not a lot. But I was going to lead you in a little bit to this device research conference.
Good, let's do that.
Because at that point, you have to remember, there were no -letters, journals, and publication was really a nine month process. Just the mechanics of submitting a paper and waiting for it to go through the process and so on was not less than nine months. The idea of getting something into print in six weeks was just inconceivable and so communication through publication was a lot less effective. The almost instantaneous publication that is done now through letters, journals just didn't happen then. There had been going on for, at the time I joined it or the time I began attending, I don't know how long, six or seven or eight years, something like that, there had been this so-called "Tube Conference", which later on was renamed in more general terms as the "Device Research Conference." This conference had a quite set format. It was held every June for three days. It was always held on a college campus somewhere so there would be low cost housing. The attendance was restricted by the people who ran it to people who were genuinely really active in the field. They tried very hard to keep it small with active people. It was not open to the press; it was understood you couldn't photograph slides or tape record things so the people really would talk about the very latest things, and there was very much an in-group. I don't mean that pejoratively, but there were a group of people who recognized each other’s' ability and who organized this meeting from year to year and who refereed the submitted papers. You submitted papers to the conference, and they were judged by a committee, much as some of the better conferences today do. And it was a definite mark of respect from colleagues to get a paper into this conference. It was quite informal and within weeks after arriving at Hughes, (I must have come there in June, I guess I might have to check this to be sure), I think it was within weeks after getting to Hughes that I got to go to the first of these conferences, which happened to be held that year here at Stanford. Perhaps we were housed in Branner Hall and the sessions were held in the Cubberly Auditorium in the Education Building, Let's see, I think it was always held Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, at least typically, and there were sessions on Monday, then there was an outdoor family picnic or outing of some kind on the first night, sessions the second day, a stag banquet which really was stag in those days the second night, and then sessions the third day and that model was followed year after year.
And you just were routinely brought in because you were in the Hughes Electron Tube Group.
The people in the tube group there had been attending this meeting for five or six years. This was "the" meeting for microwave tube research, and later for parametric oscillator research, and later lasers began to come in. I somehow was brought along and flew up to and attended the meeting up here and of course it was tremendously stimulating and challenging. I have various memories, such as seeing John Pierce quite drunk being carried out of the stag banquet by four people, each holding an arm and a leg, and that sort of thing as well as the technical benefits
So it was a way in which you could really get that kind of very nice easy communication with top people.
There was very intensive communication among all the people who were most active in the field.
Let's see, Pierce; Kompfner, would he be there?
Certainly Pierce and Kompfner and Ashkin and Tien. Typically Bell Labs and Stanford would have been the two predominant places that microwave tube work came from at that time. Between them they might have accounted for, if not that year, in later years up to 40 or 50 or 60% of the conference almost. That may be an exaggeration, but certainly 30 or 40%. Then there were places like General Electric, MIT, Hermann Haus of MIT, RCA had an active tube laboratory. I don't remember whether IBM had much to do with it. Some of the companies that made microwave tubes were Litton Industries and Eitel-McCullough or EIMAC. There was also Berkeley, the University of California at Berkeley, John Whinnery and some of his students.
And that was about '52 or '53.
Well, I think that conference had a prior history of five or six years. It might have started in '46 or '47. I attended it essentially every year for the next something like ten or fifteen years.
You probably came in the conference right after the one that Weber spoke at in Ottawa.
Yes, I did not attend the one in Ottawa that Weber spoke at. But this was the same conference. This conference certainly looked for frontier ideas and frontier work, and so Weber's paper would have been very appropriate if Weber had known of the conference and had been in the group that regularly attended it.
He was. Well, he was at the Ottawa conference. I guess I'm kind of confused here.
I don't know whether he attended many of the later conferences; I don't recall him being among the regular attendees.
He was not so much a microwave tube person as he was a fundamental physicist. So far as I know Weber didn't continue to be a regular at this conference but this certainly was the conference that he did give his well-known talk at. There was not much on quantum electronics in this meeting at that point. It came in later as masers and also parametric microwave amplifiers, low noise amplifiers came along. Many people from the research laboratories at Bell Labs came along. Well anyway, so that's how I got into that. So then, to continue: I stayed at Hughes, and got the Master’s degree in January of '54. Somewhat before that Dean Watkins, who was my first boss, had left Hughes and had come to Stanford as a professor of electrical engineering here. He persuaded both me and Orrie Hoch whom I mentioned earlier to come up here as graduate students. There was an active microwave tube research activity here at that time with Watkins, a man named Don Dunn, Donald A. Dunn, who is still here at Stanford although he works in quite a different area now, Hubert Heffner who had been at Bell Laboratories. I think Heffner was also a Stanford graduate. He'd been at Bell Laboratories for a while and was at Stanford. He later became an assistant or deputy science advisor in the Nixon administration, and then died of leukemia some years ago. He was a co-founder of the Applied Physics Department here at Stanford.
There was a Heffner who wrote on parametric oscillators in one of the early quantum electronics conferences. Would that have been he?
Yes that's Hu Heffner. He was certainly, also well known to all these people, and would have been a regular attendee at the device conference arid so on…
Were you already by that time intending to get a Ph.D.?
Yes. At least Dean Watkins persuaded me, (he was essentially my mentor) to come to Stanford as a Ph.D. student. He was also basically responsible for my staying on as a faculty member here, for essentially selecting me and recommending me and so on.
What was Stanford like compared to Hughes?
Well in some ways it wasn't all that different. The tube group at Hughes was small enough and somewhat buffered from the rest of the company so that it was a small enclave by itself. The work at Stanford was maybe a more informal, a little less elaborate equipment around, certainly, smaller buildings and so on and of course much more orientated toward Ph.D. dissertations involving graduate students, but technically it was very much the same.
Same kinds of problems?
Same kinds of problems and a lot of technical interchange with Hughes, Bell Labs, and other industrial labs. We continued to go to these device conferences and give papers and
Did you continue to see Hughes people?
Yes, you would see them. You would either be in touch with them by mail or phone or see them at these conferences and they would occasionally come up.
Now I want to ask for the Stanford period whom you might have been in close touch with, or even cooperating with if you were cooperating with any...
There was quite a close group here at Stanford. That is, we were all along one hallway in a one-story building, the so-called Electronics Research Lab, or ERL.
That's the one that's right across the street here.
No, it's a couple of building over.
That would be professors and students when you say a hallway?
Professors and students, yes, there would be a professor's office or maybe two offices and then there would be a lab which would have a combination of equipment and student desks. And incidentally, there was, at least as of '54, there was a gate with a guard sitting at it at the end of this hallway. There wasn't much in the way of the classified work, but there was a little bit of classified materials, or there were some classified documents at least in there, and so we actually had an I.D. badge that was almost like going into an industrial building. To go down that particular hallway the students and staff and faculty had picture badges that we wore. All that disappeared some years later when the University adopted some more rigid policies on any kind of classified research. The research we did was never classified. For instance, I don't think I ever wrote a classified report or anything like that. But, we had some access to classified documents and so there would be some locked file cabinets in the area.
I see, so you would actually be cleared then.
I had a clearance, yes; you had a low level security clearance.
That would be a condition of being a student?
I'm not really sure. Whether every student really had to have a clearance. I don't think so, but I'm not sure.
Then probably, this is just a guess, who was funding you. Were these students founded by the DOD?
The work here at Stanford in science and engineering has always been funded by various government agencies, with a large component of DOD supports and still is. There was at that time some NSF and a very small amount of industrial support, but primarily ONR, AFOSR, and Army Research Office. This lab today is probably about 60% founded by the basic DOD research agencies.
And you would be funded how? For example, Watkins would have a contract and you would simply be under that, or ?
In what is still the standard mode, Watkins would have a research contract, and the students research assistantships were technically salaries on those contracts. These assistant ships were administered through the EE department, according to academic criteria essentially, and the rates and so on were all set by the department; but the actual money came from the research contract.
Then I guess, there's one thing I'm a little confused on: This was called the electrical engineering department? It was called the Electronics Research Laboratory, or what exactly is the institutional name?
Oh, that's a complicated sort of thing. Stanford has the usual departmental and school structure, so there's a School of Engineering with a Department of Electrical Engineering, and so forth and so on. Because the Department of Electrical Engineering was large and had a large amount of sponsored research, there was a building and an administrative structure to manage this research. I'm not sure what this administrative structure was called at that time. Probably Stanford Electronics Laboratories. It's somewhat analogous to the RLE, the Research Laboratories of Electronics at MIT. In this system a faculty member's boss, so to speak, is the Department Chairman. Faculty salaries are set by the academic departments, as are teaching assignments and all that sort of thing, including all the arrangements for admitting and teaching students. But, then, the research laboratory, the SEL, the Stanford Electronics Laboratories, existed as an administrative structure in parallel with this, which administered the research contracts, took care of all the legalities, hired machinists, purchasing agents, and accountants for taking care of the contracts, and so on and maintained the shops and so on. Most schools have something similar to this.
Yeah. How is this related to the Microwave Laboratory?
The Microwave Laboratory is a similar and for historical reasons independent organization for administering certain faculty and student research activities at Stanford.
O.K., and they were both on campus and you were at the Electronics Research Laboratory?
At that time the Microwave Laboratory which we're sitting in right now existed. Either Ed Gizton or Marvin Chodorow was the director. The Microwave Laboratory had been set up by a group of people partly from the Department of Electrical Engineering to build the high powered klystrons for the Stanford Linear Accelerator.
The accelerator itself was in the building next door to us which is called the High Energy Physics Laboratory. And so, long before SLAC existed there were two laboratories, the HEPL, High Energy Physics Laboratory, which built the acceleratory, using the klystrons. At the same time there was the Stanford Electronics Laboratories, SEL, which was tied more to the EE Department there was microwave traveling wave tube research in both places, along with a lot of EE subjects and so we certainly had a lot of contact with Chodorow and the people in this (the Microwave laboratory.) We were all doing microwave related things, but with slightly different emphasis. In a reorganization which took place much later, in, perhaps, 1963 or 4, or in a shuffle, I moved over physically and research administratively, into this Microwave Laboratory which has been renamed the Ginzton Laboratory.
Good. Now, in you Ph.D. period, what have we left out? We talked about Watkins. Were there other people who were really important in terms of intellectual interaction?
Well Watkins, Heffner and Dunn there was a man named Walter Kohl, who was an expert on materials and processing kinds of things for building microwave tubes. I may be leaving somebody out, but those are certainly the three primary people. I did a thesis, largely theoretical, on noise in electron beams which related to noise in traveling wave tubes and…
Does that involve quantum mechanics?
No, it involved a fair amount of statistics and so on. Tien was doing similar calculations in a different manner at the same time at Bell Laboratories, Ping K. Tien. In fact, he did a series of calculations which seemed to show a dip in the noise at a certain point which was known as the Tien dip, but which almost certainly was an artifact of the numerical calculations. So, you had the Kompfner Dip, the Tien Dip, and then, of course, in lasers you had the Lamb Dip later on, so you had a lot of dips. Watkins was, at that time, making the plans to found his company. I don't remember the exact chronology, but about '56 or '57, just as I was finishing the Ph.D., he left Stanford, and of course, Terman has this whole history of helping people start companies. It had been the Varian Brothers, and Hewlett and Packard earlier, and so Watkins was one of many. The path had been somewhat marked out.
Now, were you doing things like making patentable inventions, at this point? Was that your bent of mind?
I think I was more interested in analyzing and understanding ideas and putting concepts together. I didn't think very much about patents. I have a patent or two; I've never put a lot of emphasis on patents, although I probably should have. Much more emphasis on publications. My research has been a mixture of experiment and analysis, and my bent has been more to generate ideas and analyze ideas and then work with graduate students who did the experiments. As part of my Ph.D. research I tried to do some experimental work suggested by Dean Watkins that involved building a huge low-frequency analog of a microwave tube electron gun. So I built this electron gun with a cathode three inches in diameter, and so on. It never worked out very well. Whether it was a bad idea or my experimental skills weren't all that strong, I'm not sure. I enjoyed it, but…
I'm looking through this to see what I've left out. What have we left out about your graduate work? One thing that would be nice to know, for example, was what a sample work week might have been like? Another thing is something of the universe of journals that you might have read and sort of your intellectual universe.
As one progressed through the graduate program, initially you took maybe, two or three classes, two or three regular class room courses, and then that tapered off as you went on. So you would be spending some of the time doing course work, and home-work, and some of the time working and doing other experiments or analysis in the laboratory. There was a "tube shop" with full time technicians, who were very good at glass blowing and glass-to-metal seals and cathodes and things like that, and you would interact with them a lot.
Did they give you a lot of support, or…
They gave you a lot of support and it was a situation where you did not have to prepare formal drawings or anything like that. If you wanted something made, you just made a sketch with enough information so that the knowledgeable research machinist could make it, or someone in the shop could make it, and you'd go in and talk with him from time to time.
Did you have to pretty well observe budgetary restraints?
No, the faculty member in general took care of the budgets.
You didn't have the feeling of being con-strained? I mean you had the feeling you could pretty much have what you want?
At that time, yes. The contract funds were relatively generous and there was a feeling that if you needed more contract funds, you could get them. The University overhead was low, and there were not feelings of financial constraint. I would say there are considerably more constraints now. We didn't buy a lot of elaborate equipment, that is, scientific equipment. I think at that point, the kind of equipment that we used, signal generators, detectors and amplifiers and so on, was not computerized. It was not nearly as elaborate as it is now and wasn't, relatively speaking, as expensive as it is now, and we seemed to have enough oscilloscopes and signal generators and that kind of thing. It seemed as if we worked very long hours, that is, depending on personality coming in at eight or nine in the morning, and generally coming back in the evening, and usually working on weekends as well. I remember however once being motivated for some reason to keep a very accurate log of when I worked. It felt as if I was working 60 hours a week, but when I kept a log I found out that if you really kept accurate track of the time you spent on lunch, coffee breaks, and so on that you, in fact, were working 35 or 40 hours even though you thought you were working much more.
Did you have any concrete relations to government laboratories? I mean you were being supported by these agencies, but did you have people coming in through from Air Force Weapons or wherever, or China Lake, wherever?
No so much from those. At that time there was a reasonably good Signal Corps Laboratory at Fort Monmouth, Red Bank, New Jersey, and there were some people who were doing research there, at Wright Patterson AFB, and so on. The military, the government sponsors, the DOD people, who were most often civilians, occasionally uniformed people, would come out from time to time to see what you were doing. And they would generally, some of the better ones of those people, would usually be included, for instance, in the tube conference… they would be invited to the tube Conference we discussed earlier. In the same way that Irving Rowe, was one of the people in the first Schawanga Lodge Conference, and in exactly the same sort of position. We were not building anything for any specific customers. We weren't delivering any hardware. It was understood we didn't deliver any hardware, or do any classified dissertations, and we weren't delivering anything for any specific objective, but you were simply trying to get broader bandwidth or higher gain or more stability or better noise figure, or in general better understanding of the theory and operation of some new device.
Of course it is true that even at things like the Quantum Electronics Conferences, people would come from ONR or whatever and say, "Well, this is what's desirable.''' I mean they would set out what they saw as desirable things to have happen.
But those kinds of guidelines from sponsors have always been sort of "God" and "Motherhood" kinds of things, in the sense that I think that the working scientist picked their problems much more on what they see can be solved. It's like saying, "Sure we'd like to have higher power lasers" or "We'd like to have whatever," but in some sense, that's what you'd go after anyway.
I'm trying to understand whether this kind of talk is directional, and I guess, that's what I'm really asking you. When you were having people come out from the government or still are, and they tell you we would like to see A, Band C, you know I'm trying to find out whether that's a motivation for people to…
That's something that does get debated a lot, and there has been a lot of debate here on this topic, particularly by students and particularly in the days when there was all this student unrest and the discord and so on, on campus. There was at Stanford a student sponsored program called SWOPSI, Student Workshop on Political and Social Issues. They sponsor student organized courses on campus — there's one starting up right now, this quarter, I think it's fair to say that from the researcher's point of view, we didn't do anything any different, and the DOD sponsors really didn't seem to be any different, than if they came from NSF. We're really going over to another area, DOD sponsorship and whether it really distorts the University, and so on.
Well, I really want to get a feeling for your graduate work environment, I guess, and how that sponsorship mayor may not have anything to do…
Well, I think the DOD sponsorship would have had a broad effect in the areas it did or did not sponsor. I mean, obviously, we have the current situation with the Reagan Administration cutting funding for social science from NSF and so on. So areas that didn't perhaps seem broadly interesting might riot have gotten funding. On the other hand, since nearly everything connected with electronics or physics seems to have some potential application, many, many areas got funded and I don't think we were motivated by any specific identifiable DOD objectives or needs. When they said the things that they would like to have, they were always generalities, like, "we'd like to have higher power lasers, or shorter wave length lasers." Well, so would everybody else.
O.K. Is there something we should be putting in here that you think… in terms of how you came to… the point of being a young doctor, what you had in your head, your background and your interests?
I guess I do have to say it was definitely not a process where I decided I wanted to accomplish something, where I set my goals, and went after them. It was much more a situation where I went along with the flow. I was very, very fortunate in having events guide me and in having opportunities emerge, and looking back, I think it would have been hard for me to have done better or to have had a better set of opportunities than I did. But I didn't enter graduate school, or even approach the end of it, thinking I wanted to be a professor, or with any other very definite career goals in mind.
So that would mean, for example, that Watkins set your thesis problem, or…
Yes, and that is still probably the more common situation, where Watkins would say "well look, this looks like an interesting thing," or the faculty member says "look, this looks like an interesting thing to work on" and talks it over with the graduate student. It's seldom that the graduate student has the breadth of experience and background and so on to pick a good problem. There are some faculty members who to a greater or lesser extent will encourage a student to pick his or her own problem, but particularly when it's something that's going to involve a moderate amount of equipment and effort, there just aren't the resources there to turn students loose and let them do what they want. At the same time, there's no point in putting a student onto a problem that he or she isn’t going to become excited about and want to do, because if they don't want to do it, they just won't do as well. So, you can't just assign something and say you must do this, because, if they don't want to work on it from their own motivation they shouldn't be doing it. If they don't like the problem they're working on, and don't think it's worthwhile; they shouldn't be doing it — unless they're desperate to get that credential.