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Interview of Lyman Spitzer by David DeVorkin on 1977 April 8, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4901-1
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Early life and family origins; Phillips Andover Academy; teachers; Andover and Max Millikan; early interest in astronomy; methodology of science; undergraduate years at Yale University; hobbies, teachers at Yale; physics and Alan Waterman; interest in particle accelerator; extracurricular study group at Yale; interest in economics; Henry Fellowship at University of Cambridge; concentration in theoretical physics; studies with Arthur Eddington. Graduate work at Princeton, Henry Norris Russell, thesis, origins of solar system, spectra of M giants; faculty position at Yale; World War II work; return to Yale; move to Princeton, Martin Schwarzschild, conditions for research at Princeton; space research; Stellerator Program; Jesse Greenstein's Committee; Astronomy Missions Board. Work on planetary filaments; postdoctoral years at Havard University, 1938-1939; positions at Yale; work on underwater sound during World War II; interests in galactic evolution; stellar evolution; Walter Baade's Populations; interstellar medium; growth and activity of Princeton astronomy; Plasma Physics Group, rocketry; Copernicus satellite; large space telescope; funding; responses to specific questions in astronomy and cosmology. Also prominently mentioned are: Frederick M. Boyce, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Fred Hoyle, Raymond Lyttleton, Frank Schlesinger, Harlow Shapley, John Q. Stewart; and National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) Greenstein Committee.
This is an interview with Professor Lyman Spitzer of the Princeton University Observatory, on April 8th, 1977. I'm going to be keeping a name list, just so that you know what I'm doing. I know you were born in Toledo.
In 1914. But I don't know anything else about your family -who were your parents? What did they do?
My father was a manufacturer. His father, A.L. Spitzer, had been born on a small farm, and had made some wealth in a number of enterprises, including the bond business. He and his cousin, C.M. Spitzer, had one of the first municipal bond houses west of the Hudson River, I believe. Spitzer and Company. And my father sold bonds for a few years after college, and got into various things, but then ended up buying a very small paper box factory, and built it up into quite a respectable enterprise. Nothing very large, but big enough to support his family, and small enough so that he could leave it for trips. He liked to travel, and to take his children with him. We lived in Paris for six months in 1925-26 when I was in seventh grade, and then four months in Rome in 1928, and various other places — Switzerland, England, and California. So we got around quite a bit. I think my father really wanted to be a newspaperman, and got talked out of it by his father. He was always interested in writing. On trips he would write letters back, and then have them privately printed and sent to his various friends when the trip was over. They were always rather interesting, written in a sprightly manner.
How many generations has your family been in the United States?
Oh, quite a while. Quite a while. Ernestus de Spitzer, my ancestor seven generations back, came to this country from France in 1747. Tristram Coffin, of Nantucket, was an ancestor of my wife. Our daughter put together a detailed description of all our ancestors that is hanging in our hallway at home, extending back in some cases to the 17th century.
Very interesting. I'd like to see that some time, or possibly include it in the material when we organize it.
What about the education of your father and your mother?
My father went to Andover, and then on to Yale, as I did. My mother went to Vassar College. I think my father wanted to marry her while she was still in college, but she insisted on finishing college, and was married right after she graduated, in 1906.
1906. So then your father remained in the bond business?
No, most of his business career was with the paper box business ..
As you grew up?
And this was in Toledo?
In Toledo, yes. He still lives in Toledo. My mother has been dead for some years. My father is still thriving. Enjoys life at 97, which is something of an achievement.
I'm happy to hear that. That's very good. You have brothers and sisters?
I have two older sisters, and a younger brother. They're all married. One of my sisters lives in Dublin, New Hampshire. The other one lives in Perrysburg, just outside Toledo. My brother, John, is a partner in a Toledo law firm, Marshall and Melborn.
Your sisters have no occupations?
No. My oldest sister, Lydia Rheinfrank, who lives outside Toledo, is very much interested in painting. She studied for a while in New York City under Guy Pène DuBois, and has pursued painting as an avocation, but not tremendously actively. She spent several years in New York working with DuBois.
What sort of preparation do you think your early home life gave for your eventual career decisions?
Well, that's difficult to say. My parents were always interested in intellectual things. We had many, many discussions of problems of topical and general interest at our meals. And how much of that led me to a scientific career, I’m not quite sure. My father strongly encouraged me at one point to become a college professor. At the time, when he first suggested it, I didn't think much of the idea. But as time went on, it seemed more and more attractive.
When was this, approximately?
I don't remember exactly. The story goes that my brother became interested in a career as a mathematician (after I'd gone into academic life), and he discussed this with my father who said, "Well, John, I think one queer person in the family is enough." My brother went into law.
Well, it sounds funny now, but how did you feel about it at that time?
About his remark to my brother?
Yes. Were you aware of it?
I don't even remember. My father liked to make amusing remarks, and his comment may well have been half in jest.
Did you know if, while your father was at Yale, he had any experience with the astronomers there at the time?
No, he had no particular scientific interests. He majored in English. He was more interested in writing. He had general interests, but not specifically in science. Nor my mother either.
When did you enter Phillips Andover?
I was in the class of 1931. I was at Andover for two years, from the fall of 1929 until June 1931.
So the question is, what kind of schooling did you have prior to that?
I went to a public school in Toledo — the Warren Street School, in walking distance of our home — and then to the Scott High School, a local high school, in walking distance, for two years.
Are there any teachers or experiences there that you feel were significant in your later career decisions?
I remember having several very good teachers at high school, one in Latin, one in mathematics.
Do you remember the name of the mathematics teacher?
Miss Craine, I believe.
So you had a public school education, until the time you went to Andover?
And what was your decision? It was obviously a family decision to go to Andover, but what was the primary decision?
I don't remember very clearly. My father had gone to Andover, and I was very much attached to my father, was very pleased to follow in his footsteps. He assumed that I would, as far as education was concerned and I did. I don't remember discussing it very much. We may have.
It was quite far from home. How did you feel about that?
Well, it didn't seem very far. Overnight train trip. Outside Boston. My sisters were already away at college in Poughkeepsie. It seemed very natural.
Did you have any science while you were at Andover?
Yes. There was a very good professor of physics at Andover, whom I saw a great deal of, who, I think, exerted quite an influence on me and on the development of my scientific interests. His name was Boyce. Frederick M. Boyce. I kept in touch with him for a number of years after I left Andover. I took physics with him, and several of us persuaded him to give a course in astronomy, which he did. He was a very stimulating person, very interested in his students, and he liked to present physics in terms of very simple examples that everybody could understand, usually in terms of Ford cars, Model-T cars.
You state that you asked him for the astronomy course.
You and a few other students? Or you alone?
I had a very good friend at Andover named Max Millikan. His father was head of Cal Tech, and well known in physics for his measurement of the electron charge.
I knew Max very well. He later came to Yale where we roomed together, and he also was very interested in science, although he later went into economics instead.
That's a very interesting little piece of knowledge that we wouldn't have been aware of. Did you have laboratory courses with Millikan?
No, we did not. He came to Yale only for his junior and senior years when I was not taking any formal laboratory courses.
Did he ever speak about his father?
Oh, yes. And I went to Pasadena and visited them — Max and his parents. I got to know his two brothers rather well, and went mountain climbing with Glenn. His brother Glenn married the daughter of the Everest climber, Mallory.
Oh, that's interesting.
Not very relevant, but interesting.
That is quite interesting. Then you must have met Millikan, Senior?
Oh, yes. Yes.
And how did you find him?
Oh, he obviously was a very hard worker. Every evening after dinner he would move into his study and work away on something or other. He had sort of a pleasant dry wit. Max was perhaps a little more like his mother, a little more open, with a keen interest in dramatics, which I'm sure his father didn't seem to have. I didn't see his father really much in a professional capacity. But they would have heated political discussions in the evenings. Max and his father didn't exactly agree on political matters. His father was quite conservative, which Max, as most young people, was not.
Did you talk at all about some of Millikan's balloon experiments? And possibly get interested in airborne observations?
No, I don't remember. Max had gone with his father on some of his cosmic ray expeditions to the various mountains, and we discussed the various trips that they had taken. But my talks with the Millikan family were almost entirely social, rather than on any professional problems.
How did Millikan see himself, on the social level, purely, in talking with you, and your experiences with him — as to his status in society? Do you have any impressions of that? This is all I would expect of you, just a very general impression. How did they sit around the dinner table? Was it a relatively formal event? Has he a presence in the room?
Well, let’s see what I can remember after some 45 years. (Laughter) I remember his speaking rather authoritatively on any problem that would come up, which is not surprising for somebody in his position. But he had a certain light touch, a dry wit that prevented that style from being at all oppressive, which it might have been otherwise.
Did he ever speak of politics?
Yes, there were political discussions about problems of the time. I don't remember the specific topics, but he was talking rather emphatically on those topics, and Max of course would disagree with him. I don't suppose I had enough nerve to say anything very much.
It possibly might have something to do with the Crash, the Depression?
Yes, well — this was all in 1931 that Max and I drove out together, and I spent a month with the Millikans. We went to concerts in the evenings and various things. I really saw more and felt more sympathetic with Mrs. Millikan than I did with Maxis father.
This is an aside, since Los Angeles is my town — what concerts did you go to?
The Hollywood Bowl.
The Hollywood Bowl? Excellent. OK.
Oh, yes, I could practically drive there blindfolded.
While you were out there, did you have any other contacts with the people at Cal Tech, any of the astronomers? Anything that you would remember? Did you take a trip to Mount Wilson?
I believe we must have gone up. Max and I must have gone up to Mount Wilson. I don't remember. I’ve been there so many times since, it all gets sort of merged.
Nothing that stands out?
Nothing that stands out for me.
OK, then. Well, did you have any formal religious instruction when you were a child?
Yes, I was a member of the Congregational Church in Toledo. My father and mother were members of that church. My father later became chairman of the board of the First Congregational Church. He was a trustee, I believe, for many years. My brother and I, and my sisters also, went to Sunday School there. It's hard to know what one gets from things like that. My wife and I were sufficiently persuaded of the value so that we sent our children to Sunday School here in Princeton. I don't know how much they got out of it, any more than I did. It is at least some emphasis on the importance of the spiritual side of life. If nothing else.
Yes, a balance.
Yes. That was, in my mind, the purpose of sending our children to Sunday School.
But nothing that could have created any question, making decisions when you were young, as far as your career decisions are concerned?
No, I don’t think so.
Did you expect from an early age to go to college?
Oh, I assume so. Yes.
Especially through Andover.
Yes. I did very well in my studies and enjoyed them. I liked to read. My mother was concerned that I didn't go out and play football with the boys; but would stay home and read. She bought me a football suit, which I hardly ever put on.
When you asked Professor Boyce at Andover for the astronomy course, do you recall what texts you used, and what type of astronomy he taught you?
No, but I remember reading various books by Jeans and Eddington on the side, at Andover. Jeans — these were the standard ones — THE UNIVERSE AROUND US by Eddington, and I think Jeans’ book THE STARS IN THE COURSES, something like that.
So these are the general books. You weren’t reading INTERNAL CONSTITUTION OF THE STARS?
Not at that time, no.
I see. What fascinated you most about astronomy at that time?
Oh, I suppose it’s the sweep of infinite space. The life and death of the universe. These big topics are very appealing.
You were thinking — if I can be allowed to take you literally —were you thinking of a universe with a beginning and an end, around the thirties?
I don’t remember very specifically. I remember being fascinated by what I read in these books by Eddington and Jeans. But I don’t remember the scientific content very specifically.
If I were to state a year, this would be about 1930?
I’m not exactly aware whether these two particular books you’re talking about incorporated the expanding universe. I doubt if they did. Am I correct in that assumption?
I don’t know.
I could go back and check it out.
I haven’t thought about these subjects, I mean, this particular part of my experience, for many years, and I don’t remember too —
— well, we hope that easing you into your past in this manner, you might be able to come up with some of these impressions. They would be very interesting, especially during that period, of course, with Hubble in 1929. And LeMaitre not too long after him, explaining all this sort of stuff in terms of the Primeval Atom.
Well, the fact is, though, that you did ask your professor for the astronomy course, which indicates a previous interest in astronomy.
Yes. Yes, at that time I'd been reading these other books.
You had read them before you talked to the professor?
Yes. That was the reason why I was interested in the course. The one scientific item from the course that I remember was our discussions of why the moon appears to be larger on the horizon than it does overhead. The standard explanation, you remember, is that everyone makes a comparison with objects on the horizon. I remember making a little tube to isolate the image of the moon from everything around it, and making comparisons, on the horizon and above, trying to see if I could verify that for myself. And the results were inconclusive. I became somewhat interested in the problem.
A strange appearance, psychological paradox.
Yes. Yes, it is.
That early period of your life, of course, would you say that through those two books primarily you became interested in astronomy? Or was there some other interest that drove you to those books, if you can recall?
Well, I was interested in science generally. I enjoyed my physics course very much indeed. I did really very well at it. At that period, I think it was the first time that my particular ability in science first became apparent. My stock in trade, so to speak, is an ability to visualize what goes on physically in terms of specific models, and in terms of what I can visualize in my mind. I can see how things fit together, and sort of understand the physical process. Mathematical theories — I can do them and have done them, but I have no particular ability in that direction. And all my work, I think, has been based on being able to understand physical phenomena, and to project that understanding to discussing what goes on under other conditions, and other circumstances that people haven't thought of before. And this became apparent in my first year physics course at Andover. I was able to visualize what went on in the world of physics, in the problems that we discussed.
Freddy Boyce, I think, realized this, this ability, and felt that it was somewhat unusual, and tried to cultivate it. We used to go to his house after dinner, and at one point he organized a little trip. He and I and I guess some other students went into Boston to hear Henry Norris Russell give a talk on stellar evolution. Which I thought was a very fascinating business at the time — you remember, when Russell had all these stars marching down the main sequence. I think it was the wrong way and very little was correct in those theories of his, but they were very stimulating. He spoke very forcefully.
That is interesting. This places you in your Andover years. Your recollection of still using the main sequence as an evolutionary track in Russell's lecture was at least a few years after his textbook which came out in '27. Chapter 26 of that textbook hedged pretty seriously, worrying that main sequence may not be an evolutionary track. They were worried about mass, differences in mass-luminosity relationship, and applications of radiative equilibrium. You probably were not aware of these things at those times.
Oh, I'm sure I wasn't. In fact, my recollection of Russell's lecture is a little vague, and I may very well have inserted into that lecture things that I've read since, that I know that he was advancing. So you shouldn't take too literally my comments about what he actually said in that lecture, because I don't really remember.
It's very possible that Russell could still have said these things in popular lectures, because there were no other answers. Later on we’ll get into this sort of thing. I think we could move on to what I would call your early professional training at Yale. It seems from your previous comments that you were predestined to go to Yale, from your father's experience and then from Andover.
I did consider a little bit going to Harvard, I vaguely remember, while I was at Andover, but there didn't seem to be that strong an argument for it.
There was no particular element in the university itself that took you there other than tradition, family, you might say?
Well, I wouldn't say that strongly. I remember discussing the relative advantages of different colleges, and if there'd been a strong positive advantage for my professional education in going somewhere else I think I would have gone somewhere else.
Did you specifically look into the physics and astronomy at various institutions, in your decision, or was it more general than that?
I don't remember. I think it was more general. I think I was not so much concerned — I think I was more interested in the general climate among the students, than I was in the formal curriculum. At least I remember discussing the different attitudes at Yale and Harvard.
Who did you discuss these attitudes with?
Mostly with classmates at Andover. And also, I believe, with Freddy Boyce.
But you didn't have any particular discussions with people Harvard or Yale?
No, although I remember, Max and I went to Harvard on one occasion. It may have been for a debate. We were enthusiastic debaters. And we got talking to some of the Harvard students. I remember being rather turned off by the rather sophisticated and generally uninterested attitude of one particular student. Probably he was not typical, but had some influence on my attitude toward Harvard at that time.
Well, you were at Yale as an undergraduate from 1931 to 1935. How were you supported during college?
Oh, my father paid all my expenses. Actually that's not quite the case. I received a scholarship (the Henry P. Wright Scholarship) my senior year at Andover, that was given to somebody who satisfied some criterion or other, I don't quite remember. In any case, I think this paid my tuition for the first year at Yale, with perhaps some additional income on the side.
Do you recall the amount of the stipend?
No. But I received a number of prizes at Andover. One that in some ways is the most interesting was a prize for the person who wrote the best essay on Charles Dickens. And when they were running through the list of prizes, they read out my name — on Charles Dickens. Well, I hadn't written an essay on Charles Dickens, but I went up and accepted the prize. I went later to Claudie Fuess, the headmaster, and said, "But, Sir, I didn't write an essay on Dickens."
He said, "Well, that's all right. Nobody else did either. We thought it would be nice to give you the prize."
And then I got a letter from the man who'd given the prize, asking if I would please send him a copy of my prize essay. I wrote frantically to the headmaster, and he volunteered to make peace with the man who'd given the prize.
How did you feel about such a thing? Did it bother you?
Well, I was a little upset at the time, because I didn't want to disappoint the man who'd given the prize. But I think the school took the position that they just used the prize for excellence in English or, something. They didn't have anybody else to give the prize to.
Let's not get totally into Yale just yet. How did you spend your summers, when you were not in school, during your Andover years? Did you have any job interests?
Oh, I did a variety of things, nothing very much. We went on various trips, various family trips, my brother, father, cousin and I. Every summer for a number of years, we went on little excursions, once to Maine for a solar eclipse, once on a bicycle trip around the Finger Lakes, and once canoeing in south Ohio — various places.
Where was the eclipse?
The eclipse was at Poland Springs, Maine, and I remember, there was some astronomer, some British astronomer there who said this was the first eclipse he'd seen. He'd been on seven expeditions and they'd all been successful, and he'd always been so busy tending his equipment, he'd never had time to look at the eclipse. So this was once he was just going to sit on the top of the hotel and look at the sun, which he did.
Did you do the same?
I did the same.
Sometimes it's more fun that way.
Probably that was in '31, '30, something like that, I don't remember.
Well, any hobbies that have consumed your time over long periods of time? Do you collect things?
Oh, I had a stamp collection when I was young, but it didn't amount to much. More recently, one of my main interests has been mountain climbing and skiing. But of course, it's a little hard to spend very much time on those when one lives in Toledo, and at the time I wasn't really doing much climbing yet.
Mountain climbing has persisted as an interest. For some time?
Yes. I'm very fond of most anything one does in the mountains.
There are a number of astronomers that climb mountains, to my knowledge. I know Marshal Wruble did.
Dan Popper. I knew a number of students that did. In fact. I believe that for a while Whitford and Kron climbed mountains together, when they were younger.
I hadn't realized that.
I shouldn't be doing the talking. Anyway, back to Yale. I mean, it's interesting that astronomers climb mountains. I think there's a real significance in that.
I think it's more general. I think it's people in the natural sciences and mathematics. When my wife and I were hiking around in the high country above Yosemite, we met various people in a series of little camps that they maintain, and we were surprised at to what extent they tended to be from the natural sciences and mathematics. The number of people from the humanities, for example, were much less. Why that should be, I don't know.
That's an interesting piece of data. Well, about Yale — were there any of your college teachers at Yale who made a particularly strong impression upon you?
Yes. There were several people I would mention in the physics department. I didn't take any astronomy at Yale. I was majoring in physics. Alan Waterman, I saw a good deal of. He supervised my independent work during the last two years. I petitioned the university to be excused from all course requirements, and did reading on the side, and had some experiments that I was doing. These were done under supervision by Alan Waterman, and I thought a good deal of him, and he was very helpful.
Another person I should mention, as I had tremendous respect for his powers of elegant presentation of physical theory, was Leigh Page. Idon't know if you've ever heard of him. He wrote a book called INTRODUCTION TO THEORETICAL PHYSICS, and he had a graduate course on thatsubject which went through the book that both Max and I took in our junior year. The class met for an hour and half, six days a week, first thing in the morning, and during the year went through the whole field of theoretical physics. Page gave a very elegant, very beautiful presentation of these physical theories, and I think I got a great deal of esthetic satisfaction from his course — and it was intellectually very interesting.
This was the period when quantum was developing?
We didn't get so much into wave mechanics in that course. It was almost all classical physics.
Were you aware of quantum theory?
Oh, yes. In my senior year, I believe we persuaded Page, if I remember correctly, to give his course in electrodynamics, that got off a little into quantum theory, and the motion of the electron. I'm a little hazy now as to just what courses I took, what courses I attended.
Did you continue to visit on the West Coast during your years at Yale?
I don't think so. I don't remember going to the West Coast.
You mentioned that you still had some contacts with Max Millikan.
Yes. My first two years, he was at Cal Tech. His father was anxious that Max go to Cal Tech, which he did as a freshman. But he finally decided that for somebody of his interests, Cal Tech was really not very satisfactory. So he transferred to Yale for the last two years, and we roomed together.
You mentioned that you didn't take any astronomy. Did you have any contact at all with the astronomers? During your Yale years?
I don't think so.
Schlesinger was there, of course.
Yes: Yes. And I talked with Schlesinger at one point. He invited me to collaborate with him in some sort of a textbook or survey or something. And just when that was, I don't remember exactly, but I believe this must have been when I went back to Yale in 1939-40 and was on the faculty of the physics department. I don't think I got up to the Observatory at all as an undergraduate.
In your independent research with Waterman, what did you have in mind doing?
I had an idea. I loved to think of, plan various things, and I had some scheme laid out for a particle accelerator, which was a little ahead of the time, because I didn't really know enough to do anything in the field, and I'm not really a very good experimentalist. But the scheme was to [develop] what would now be regarded as a linear accelerator, where you apply electric fields which alternate in such a way that they stay in phase, and pull a particle through. I didn't get very far with this project. All I did was to generate electrical oscillations by getting a discharge between two small spheres, and then measuring the frequency of oscillation by measuring the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation which they emitted.
Did you have vacuum apparatus for this?
No. This was just the beginning of what might have been done in this area, until Klystrons and other things came along. It was really completely impractical. I now believe, but —
— but you had the idea.
Yes, and this was supposed to be the beginning of a program, for particle acceleration.
Were you — I haven't sensed any frustration, but were you frustrated in this experimental work at the end?
Well, I wasn't frustrated. It didn't get very far. I don't quite know how high my hopes had been when I started. I don't suppose I really expected to have a particle accelerator built in the attic of the physics building during my junior and senior years. But it was to sort of layout what might be done. But in view of the experimental difficulties, I tried to make up for it with an elegant theoretical analysis of what I'd done. That in itself wasn't too successful either.
I planned out another thing in that period. On a trip out west I got very much interested in planning a transcontinental transportation network, which it seemed to me was the sort of thing ultimately one would have to go to, with tubes connecting different cities, using electromagnetic suspension, with cars accelerated and decelerated electromagnetically. I’d planned for integrating this inter-city network with the local transportation within each city. The concept was to apply to transportation the same diversification and branching philosophy that one uses in telephone systems. Small cars would travel in tubes between cities, and end up various places within the city, and might even, in tall buildings, go up and stop at one of the high floors, in a skyscraper. I spent an enormous amount of time just thinking about various practical problems, how all this might be done.
I told my father about this, and he began to think I was going off the deep end, and made me promise I wouldn't think about this scheme for another three of four months.
In the way that you describe it, it reminds me of some of the early films, futuristic films like "Metropolis" and others. Had you seen that?
Yes, I saw "Metropolis." Yes. About at this time, I became an avid reader of science fiction.
Uh-huh! Of the E.E. Doc Smith variety?
I don't remember that. I read AMAZING STORIES. Hugo Gernsbach's publication and ASTOUNDING. And then for a number of years, I would buy science fiction magazines and read them on trains coming back from business trips, and things of that sort. I stopped for the last ten, twenty years, but I was interested for a number of years.
Science fiction is still alive and well.
Of course, these ideas that I was working with were not novel, even then, but I've been interested to see some of them being revived now, in terms of our transportation problems.
Well, was your interest stimulated by the problem of mass transportation? Were you aware of that problem at the time? Or was it just an interesting problem that was an extension of your thinking about particle accelerators?
Well, it's all related. You don't have to be very profound to realize the problems of mass transportation. I'm sure I didn't think in terms of the exhaustion of the oil resources, but it's clear that such techniques provide a much more efficient way of transporting people — also much more rapid. And would have advantages over airplanes.
You were in an era, though, of course, when the car was becoming the dominant symbol.
Yes, but it could only go 60 miles an hour. This is a scheme which, with small cars, the ability to go from any location in anyone city to any other location in any other city would be clearly a preferable system of transportation — faster and much more convenient than any other which has been proposed.
Did you take into account any kind of dynamical properties of the gravitational field of the earth, when you designed these tubes? Were they linear?
I made some computations along those lines. It depends on the actual acceleration. There are theoretical advantages of cutting through the earth, but that begins to get into some problems in connection with the cost of making the tunnels. I computed what the acceleration would be if it stayed, if it followed the curvature of the earth. Oh, I don't remember now.
It's a very interesting subject.
But I was fascinated by it.
Any other influences during your Yale years? Any impressions of the town of New Haven? .
Well, I was active in other ways during my Yale years. I went out for the YALE NEWS, and became chairman of that publication, which I rather enjoyed.
I should also mention the fact that a group of us had met regularly, and organized a series of informal courses, extracurricular courses which in some ways were more rewarding than the formal curriculum. There was a fellow named Richard Bissell, whom you may or may not have heard of. He was a Yale graduate several years earlier — a very brilliant, clear, logical thinker, who had gone to the London School of Economics, and was then back on the faculty at Yale. He later went down to Washington during the war, and ended up, after a series of other things, in the Central Intelligence Agency, and I believe was largely responsible for the detailed planning of the Cuban invasion – the failure of which terminated his career with the government. A personal tragedy for him. But that's a later — a footnote.
Dick was a very stimulating person. He organized a series of informal seminars on economic theory. Walt Rostow was also a member of this group, together with several others, including Bill Hull. Walt was somewhat of a junior member — a year or two behind us.
Max Millikan was in this?
Yes, both Max Millikan and Charlie Seymour, who you probably don't know. His father was president of Yale. Charles ended up in art history. He was one of my very closest friends — he died just a few days ago. He gave us a series of informal seminars on gothic architecture very, very interesting.
What was your contribution?
I attended these things, and took an active part in the discussions on economic theory. At the time, I was very seriously considering going into economics as a career — theoretical economics.
Through being influenced by Millikan? Or your interest in modeling? Or both?
Well, partly modeling, but partly that I found the dis-cussions in this little group extremely interesting.
Who did you read in economic theory? At that time? All the way back to Malthus?
No, no — it would be the more recent stuff. I had quite a library — some Keynes, of course, but before that there was Chamberlin and some Hyeck, Bohm Baeverk — who were the others?
Well, that's a good list. At least it certainly indicates that you were seriously considering economics. They have a marvelous economic growth center there, and economics has always been strong, to my knowledge, at. Yale.
Yes, Dick was one of the leading younger people at that time. He and Max later went to MIT. Max stayed there until his death in 1969.
And then I toyed with the idea of doing both theoretical physics and economics. I thought that perhaps I could get a position that would cut across disciplinary lines, and I would do physics in the morning and economics in the afternoon. I had all sorts of impractical ideas.
Would that be possible today, when we see so many people -I know there were some physicists at Yale, in fact, one of them came to Princeton with the idea that quantum mechanics could solve most of the problems of the world.
I think it's pretty difficult. These interdisciplinary programs are difficult at best, and the amount of overlap between theoretical physics and theoretical economics is not that big. To really make progress in any field, one has to concentrate.
Even though the modeling procedures may be very similar?
The modeling procedures may be similar, but one has to do one or the other. If one tries to do both, during the same two or three year period, one risks not doing much of anything.
Right. It may also be the degree to which you were actually working with the physical reality of the problem at hand. People who are total theorists could work possibly in both.
That might be. That might be. So I had to make a decision between the two, and I remember discussing it with my father who said, "We1l, one advantage of going into natural science — you can convince people that you are either right or wrong, whereas in economics everybody has his own views and it's very difficult to establish the correctness of any viewpoint." And I thought that was a good argument. That wasn't the only thing that I took into account. I think my abilities were really better matched to physics than they were to economics.
Did you see any certain comfort in that idea that you're either right or wrong, in physics?
Yes. Yes, I thought that was a rather powerful argument.
In the physics department at Yale, I'm not too sure, but I know that E.O. Lawrence was there for a while.
Not while I was there.
He wasn't there?
At least if he was, I think he left shortly before I arrived.
Were there other physicists who affected your interests and thinking?
No, I think I've mentioned the two main ones at Yale. I knew a number of others and talked to them. And I'm a little confused in my mind between the ones that I talked to after I joined the physics faculty and [the ones I knew as a student].
In general, what ideas did you encounter while you were an undergraduate physics major which you remember — particularly striking ideas — either ideas that you agreed with or disagreed with?
During this period, you had the positron. You had the neutron discovered. All these particles were being discovered. How did you react to the actual discoveries of these things?
I don't remember those particular items at all. I was concentrating more on the theoretical aspects, and in the field r was discussing at the time, I didn't have much contact with any theoretical problems that were very relevant to the neutron.
Do you feel you were exposed to the most up-to-date concepts in physics and astronomy, then? Even from the theoretical side?
Astronomy at that time r was not exposed to. I’m not sure I was exposed to the most up-to-date concepts in physics at the time. Page was not actually working in modern fields. I think I had essentially an excellent grounding in classical physics.
Now, the fact is that when you graduated from Yale, you went to Cambridge.
And apparently, you went to study with Eddington.
No, that's not correct. I did, in fact, study with Eddington, but that was not my purpose.
Please inform me.
r went to Cambridge for the purpose of studying nuclear physics, and I was assigned to Fowler.
R.H. Fowler, right. And I told him that I wanted to read nuclear physics, and he said, "Well, that's all very well, but there's a paper by Stromgren in the ZEITSCHRIFT FUR ASTROPHYSIK. Why don't you read that, and come back in another week or two?"
That didn't seem to me to be quite consistent with what I’d asked for, but I read the paper by Stromgren, "The Effect of Electron Captures on the Central Intensities in Fraunhofer Lines," a very stimulating paper; I spent quite a little time trying to understand physically what was going on, what was the physical reason for the result, what was the model that was effective here. And I rather enjoyed it.
I went back to see Fowler about this, and, of course, he didn't remember who I was or what he'd told me to do. He had to leave in the middle of our discussion anyway because he was about to leave for Princeton, where he was spending one or two terms.
You just mentioned that Fowler had gone to Princeton.
Yes, he was about to leave, and he said that he could no longer supervise me, but suggested that I transfer to Eddington. I don't really remember whether I protested, whether I still tried to shift back to nuclear physics or what I said, but in any case, I did end up by going to work with Eddington, on this problem.
He'd already worked in this area natural line widths.
Yes. Well, he didn’t really focus too much on the problem that I finally got involved in, which was that of non-coherent scattering. But I enjoyed talking to him. He was quite far along in years. He gave no indication in talking to me of the great, tremendous physical imagination that comes out in his books. But I must have met with him, I don't know, three or four times, during the rest of my time in Cambridge. And I wrote a paper on non-coherent scattering, which I enjoyed because it gave some sort of analysis physically of what was going on. I don’t think it advanced the subject so terribly much at that time. I came back to it, again, a few years later, with a more positive result. But since then, a lot of other people have worked in the field.
Was your purpose at Cambridge graduate study per se?
Yes. I don't remember whether I'd been planning all along to go to graduate school at Princeton, or whether I decided to do that while I was there in Cambridge. But in any case, I did. I knew I was only going to stay there a year. I had a Henry Fellowship, and when that was over, I returned and went to Princeton as a graduate student. I guess I must have been enrolled in the physics department.
Now, a Henry Fellowship — this is Joseph Henry?
No. It's a U.S. fellowship that was given, if I remember correctly, by Lady Julia Henry. In any case, my recollection is that a group of Henry Fellowships at Cambridge, England, were to be available generally to young men in this country who wanted to study in England. I seem to remember that the awards were made by a group of Yale and Harvard people, and for some reason, the best qualified candidates for many years were all Yale and Harvard students.
Actually, my Andover roommate, Donald G. Allen, was one of the first Henry Fellows from outside Yale; he was an undergraduate at Dartmouth. I haven't heard of him for years. But I believe he was a Henry Fellow, the year before I was. Since then, I think they're still being awarded. But since then, I believe they have a little wider distribution. There are not many such fellows.
Did you receive the fellowship before you decided to go to Cambridge?
No, I had to apply for it.
You had to apply for the fellowship and for the foreign study at the same time?
I think receiving the fellowship automatically carried admission to Cambridge. I don't think I applied to Cambridge separately. I remember the interview with the trustees of the fund, but I don't remember much else.
I'm interested in your year at Cambridge, and the people you met. Ending up working with Eddington, did you have contact with his other students?
I don't know who his other students were. He was out at the observatory, and as you know, Cambridge astronomy has been rather fragmented, in the past. But I did meet quite a few people with whom I had very interesting intellectual contacts. The chief of these I would mention, was Chandrasekhar, who was a fellow at Trinity; he had evening seminars that we used to go to, to discuss more up-to-date problems and theories than I would get with Eddington.
Fred Hoyle was a graduate student at the same time that I was. I came to know him fairly well, and Max Krook, whom you probably know (he is now at Harvard). And there were a number of others, but those were the three, that I mainly remember.
What were the main topics of discussion? Did Chandra usually direct the discussions, or were these round-robin?
Well, I sort of forget now just what happened, and I may get Chandra's formal lectures confused with these evening meetings. But I had the same admiration of Chandra's elegance of presenting formal results that I had for Leigh Page, with the exception, of course, that Chandra was more active in advancing the frontiers than Page ever was. Just the way Chandra wrote his equations on the board, the way everything flowed so clearly and logically and imaginatively, to the conclusions — a wonderful esthetic experience.
What were some of the primary topics that you recall? Was he working on stellar structure?
Yes, he gave a series of formal lectures on stellar structure during my year there — mostly on white dwarfs, degenerate stellar systems. But he was also interested in problems of stellar atmospheres.
That didn’t come out until radiative transfer?
He had written earlier papers on stellar atmosphere. Later he came back to the radiative transfer problem and had a much more different, much more fundamental approach. But during the period 1930-35, he published several papers in MONTHLY NOTICES on radiative transfer problems.
Would this have anything to do with opacities? The early problems with opacities in the thirties?
Perhaps so. [Note added later — actually No!]
Eddington was having some serious problems with hydrogen abundances and opacities.
Eddington and Chandra had some very serious arguments. I did not myself at the time get involved in those. My knowledge of those is mostly based on later discussions.
No direct experience with that.
No direct experience. However, I went to lectures by Dirac. I found his work rather difficult to understand, rather formal. His mind works very differently from mine. Eddington's books, I found a great pleasure to read.
Well, there's a different background there.
Anything that you could identify?
Well, I remember one Easter vacation — I think this must have been when I was back at Princeton — I went on some trip down to Virginia or something, with my parents and my brother. There wasn't very much planned, and I devoted most of that vacation to going through Eddington's book on general relativity, which I found very enjoyable. I’d never really taken a formal course in general relativity, and I felt that I should become familiar with it. The presentation and the mathematics and all — it's just very clear. I've always remembered bits and pieces of that book.
The problems at that time, combining general relativity with cosmology — that was a very active problem.
Was this what was fascinating you?
No. No, that was — I did get a copy of his other book, on the — I don't even remember the name of it now.
FUNDAMENTAL THEORY, where he discusses these broader problems, and derives the number of particles in the universe. That I found most unsatisfactory. I was never able really to follow the cogency of those arguments.
So you found your impression of Eddington directly was far different from what you got from his books?
That's very interesting.
Well, I think this was rather typical. I understand that in meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society, he never made a very forceful impression, as a speaker. And he talked rather hesitantly, not very forcefully.
And yet, he was engaged in so many debates with Jeans and Milne and Chandresekhar later on, and these were public — at least if not public, they were in the MONTHLY NOTICES.
The written ones.
Yes. Well, I believe that his style, I have the impression that his style was mainly a written style, rather than a spoken style.
Have you read Vi1bert Douglas's biography of Eddington?
No, I have not.
I would have asked your impressions of it.
Well, I can't pretend that I knew Eddington at all.
Did he seem like a solitary person?
Somewhat. And rather quiet, rather aloof.
What about Milne?
I am not sure that I ever met Milne. I did go, I think, to one meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, so I may have seen Milne there, I don't remember.
Did you have contacts with Lyttleton?
Yes. I'm not sure whether Lyttleton was in Cambridge at the time, but he was in Princeton for a year, when I came back here as a graduate student. And he was working with Russell. And so I've known Lyttleton, reasonably well, for many years. I saw him again when we were back in Cambridge a year ago.
Is he still active?
Yes. Yes. He has a theory of comets, and he writes articles, trying to blast the Oort theory.
Really? He very well may be someone who would be a very good interview. I plan to go over to England.
Yes, I can well imagine.
We aren't limited to the United States.
Sure, I think, talk to Ray Lyttleton. And you've probably talked to Fred Hoyle.
Well, not this particular project. He's been interviewed so many times.
Yes, by so many people, on so many topics. Fred has ideas on anything. Wonderful.
What were your associations with Fred Hoyle? Did you have social contacts? Did you go around together?
Yes. Yes. I don't remember him really that well. I don't remember specific items after all these years, but I knew him reasonably well then, just socially, and we'd go to these lectures, and we'd talk about things, and he and I followed up over the years. He came to Princeton as a visiting professor, for a term, and I've seen him at meetings and things since. I remember a long walk we had once, in which he expressed his dissatisfaction with his position in British astronomy. And this is a long time before he set up his institute.
Any particular remembrances of that discussion come to mind? What was he particularly upset about? Who was he upset with?
Well, I think it was the organization of astronomy at Cambridge that he was upset with, that didn't provide him with much scope, and this was, I think, before the institute had been set up. I think this was at an IAU meeting at Zurich. Years and years ago. We walked down some mountain together. I remember the mountain, but I don't remember the specific complaints.
He did set up the institute now, and the institute is not physically very far away from the old building, the old observatory.
That's right. Now they are run very closely together. The old fragmentation has been ended. It's been a very successful establishment, one of the great centers in theoretical astronomy in the world.
I had the pleasure of spending a week at Cambridge, courtesy of David Dewhurst.
Oh yes. Yes.
Met a number of people. Did you know David Dewhurst?
Not very well, but I've met him on a number of occasions. He took my wife and me around in the university library and showed us some most interesting exhibits.
Was he there when you were a postgraduate?
Well, I don't know. That I don't remember. I had leave in the fall term, 1975-76, and I spent two months in Cambridge and four months in Paris, and that's when I knew him. I'm sure I'd met him before on some occasions, but I don't remember when.
While you were at Cambridge, did you travel in Europe?
Yes. Max Millikan was also at Cambridge with me. He was studying economics. And Charlie Seymour was in Paris, doing a dissertation on the Cathedral of Noyon, and so we got together. We went bicycling around the cathedrals and little churches of France, and we went skiing in the Spanish Pyrenees, and Swiss Austrian Alps, with various people. Various things.
So it was pure travel, pure pleasure.
My general policy when I travel is to stay away from observatories. Some of my friends don't do things quite that way, but I've found it a sane policy. With my wife, when we're on a trip, we often go to meetings. That's very pleasant. But when we're not at a meeting, I try to stay away from observatories.
How was the general atmosphere at Cambridge? You noted Hoyle’s dissatisfaction. Of course, that’s well known.
That was considerably later, of course.
Yes. But during the thirties, did the differences between Chandrasekhar and Eddington seem to cast a pall over people? Did people take sides?
I didn’t notice that. My general recollection of the atmosphere at that time was of a very stimulating, very lively place. More so than Yale. I mean, vaster in its horizons. Maybe one of the reasons I didn’t go to the Yale Observatory was because their interests there just didn’t happen to coincide with mine. There was no particular astrophysics at Yale, and Schlesinger’s work, while extremely important, to all astronomy, wasn’t very exciting intellectually for a young man.
What about Chandra’s position socially? How did he feel? Did he feel set apart from society in Cambridge? Did you have that feeling?
I don’t remember anything of that sort. I would have been surprised if that were true, but then, on the other hand, I can’t disagree with that. I just don’t know.
So his disagreements were purely scientific?
I think so.
Oh, I think so. That’s my impression. My colleague, Martin Schwartschild, knows Chandra probably better than anyone else around. He’s been a very close friend of Chandra’s.
They were together at Harvard?
Where they were together, I don’t know. Was Chandra at Harvard then? I was at Harvard in 1938-39. I don’t think Chandra was there then, but he may have been three a year before or later.
When they both came over, I think they were. Well, talking about Lyttleton, then, it wasn’t at Cambridge that you had contact with him.
I don’t remember whether he was at Cambridge in '35, ‘35 or not, but ’36, ’38, back in Princeton, I know he was here.
But during the ’35-’36 year, and then — possibly earlier — That is when he began reviving the collision mechanism for the formation of the planetary system and all, and eventually I will certainly want to ask you about that, because your work involved both Russell's ideas and Lyttleton's. I'm interested in your contact and how you became interested in that kind of problem, just to set the stage.
Staying at Cambridge, how did you feel, as a student there, as opposed to being a student in the United States? Did you feel that there was a very definite position in society that a student or a scientist would have in Britain, as opposed to the United States at that time — anything that stands out in your mind?
I was not aware of any very tremendous difference between the two countries. And, of course, they're sort of isolated worlds. And of course, there were quite a few Americans that I saw, with Max being at Cambridge, and there was another former Yale undergraduate, named Andy Wanning, who was there and a few others. But I got to know a number of Britishers also.
Do they have a different regard for the role of science? In British society, as opposed to the scientists here?
If they did it didn't make much of an imprint on me.
OK. Although your period of stay in England was well before the expansion of the war, things were brewing in Europe at that time. Was there any awareness on your part of the problems in Europe, especially possibly during your travels in Europe? You noted you were mainly in France, though, this might come out through contact with German scientists. Did you have any contacts with German astronomers or physicists at that time?
Germany? No. No. See, when did Martin leave? When did Martin leave? And go to Norway?
He got his degree in '36 or '37, and I believe went to Norway about that time.
Yes. Well, things hadn't really — 1936? Well, things were already beginning to go to pieces in Germany.
But there's nothing that stands out in your mind? There weren't round table discussions worrying about contacts with German scientists, that sort of thing?
No, at that time.
There was one other question. You mentioned that you did not have contact with Milne. I'm very much interested in one aspect of work in Britain, theoretical work as opposed to work in the United States. And I know from correspondence between Milne and Russell that Milne was very frustrated by feeling compelled to have to solve problems analytically, with as elegant formalisms as possible. Of course we always looked at this as an ideal, but the numerical techniques that Americans felt no problems exploiting to any degree, ever since the work of G.W. Hill, were always looked upon with envy by Milne. He wished that he could have taken advantage of these numerical techniques. Did you have any of those feelings, not from Milne, from some of the other students, from Hoyle, Chandra, from Eddington?
No, I don't think so. I think the general climate of the time in Cambridge, as indeed throughout most of my formal education, put a big premium on the analytical, over the [numerical]. And I was pretty heavily steeped in that. In fact, I think it was Martin Schwarzschild who first began to try to talk me into the values of the direct numerical solution — simplifications that one gets by just trying to forget about analysis. I’m sure the numerical methods have great advantages. They don’t tend to push one into trying to get a physical understanding. But then that’s also true of some of the analytical approaches, also. One can lose oneself in a sea of analysis and lose all understanding of what's going on. So it's — the problem of physical understanding is somewhat independent of this dispute.
That was my next question. As far as appreciation of what physically is going on, did you feel that the analytical approach had greater potential for understanding what was going on physically than the numerical approach?
Yes, I think to some extent. And also, I felt it had value just in its own, just in itself. I enjoyed the analytical results then perhaps even more than I do now. My background had been such that I admired them, wished to do that sort of thing, to some extent, and some of my earlier papers have more analysis in them than I would do if I were rewriting them today.
When did you have these discussions with Dr. Schwarzschild?
When we came here together, in the early days of his stellar evolution work.
OK. Well, we’ll return to that much later. Let’s go, then, to Princeton. Was it understood that you would return to Princeton when you went to Cambridge?
Yes. I believe so.
I’m not entirely sure, but I think so.
I know that in the past a number of graduate students had been accepted at various colleges and then decided to spend a year at Cambridge. It didn't work that way with you?
No, I don't think I applied to Princeton until I was at Cambridge. I sort of think that I even discussed, when I was at Cambridge, possibilities of other places. But I believe what I wanted to do was to combine physics and astronomy, and Princeton was strong in both. And I wanted to have some contact with Henry Norris Russell.
That was a direct interest on your part.
And, of course, Princeton was a tremendous center of theoretical physics in those days.
It certainly was. And is.
Yes, and is.
The application procedure for Princeton — did it involve Dr. Russell at all?
I don't remember.
OK, then, you came to Princeton. Your support was derived —
— My father paid all my expenses. I think I may have been the only person in the Princeton graduate school who paid all his own I seem to remember some conversation with the dean on that subject at one point during my graduate career. He expressed some surprise that I was paying my own way.
It was rare at that time?
I believe so. That's my recollection. In the sciences.
What type of money was generally available?
Well, I don't remember, but it may have just been in the natural sciences that they mostly had support, but my recollection may be incorrect.
Did your father feel some obligation to pay for you, since he could afford it?
I don't remember discussing it with him.
You never directly applied for aid?
I don't think so. No, I think I probably felt it would be unfair to apply for aid if I didn't need it.
I see. As a graduate student, how did you feel professionally here?
Well, I felt a little lost, among all the theoretical physicists. I remember going to Wigner's lectures, and having some trouble understanding what they were all about. He was talking about scattering theory, and I really had no particular background for that. I felt very incompetent compared to all the other students.
Yet you had already considered, literally, non-coherent scattering, absorption mechanisms?
That was quite different. That's scattering according to much simpler theory. This was Wigner's work on nuclear scattering, which is quite different — excited nuclei, and the details of cross-section problems. Then I went to some lectures by E.U. Condon, who always impressed me by his ability to present the physics of what was actually happening, in terms that I could understand.
I went to a number of talks by Einstein. He gave a long talk on an error he'd made in gravitational wave theory. Some very sophisticated error.
Were these organized under particular subject headings? Seminar headings? Lecture headings? Courses?
Einstein's talk was just an afternoon colloquium. But I believe that Wigner's lectures and Condon's lectures were regular courses that I enrolled in and took as part of my graduate student training.
Were you totally within the physics department when you came here?
My plan, as it emerged, was to do general examinations in theoretical physics, and then do a thesis, perhaps under Henry Norris Russell. That's the way it worked out.
In making those plans, did you discuss them with Russell?
I suppose so. I don't remember in detail. But I presume that he supported this, in the same way we would now, since training in theoretical physics is a very strong background for astrophysics. One can pick up the astronomy, but it's harder to pick up the physics.
Actually, when I had written my thesis, the physicists looked I at it and said they couldn't very well give me a degree in physics. They got together with Russell, and actually I got my degree in theoretical astrophysics, because the thesis was so obviously astrophysical rather than physical.
What was your thesis topic?
My thesis was on "Interpretation of the Spectra of M Super I Giant Stars."
That was your thesis? I wasn't sure if that was written for publication by the time you were a postdoc.
No. No. That was suggested by Russell. He said that Adams had offered to make these plates available to somebody, and he thought it would be a wonderful topic. I wasn’t quite that enthusiastic, because it didn’t seem to me to be such a terribly basic or sweeping subject. Sort of a small, isolated problem — which has advantages for a thesis. But I went off to Pasadena, and spent a summer working with the plate material, and did the microdensitometry. Then I brought the data back to Princeton and wrote the thesis here.
So you went to Mount Wilson before ’38?
Yes. I was there in the summer of ’37.
This is interesting — not to get too far ahead, because I do want to talk about Princeton — does this mean then that you had any contact with Hubble or Tolman, before you wrote the short paper on their distribution work?
The Hubble-Tolman analysis?
You’ve really looked up my bibliography. You probably know more about whan I’ve written than I do myself.
Well, I’m very interested in those things.
I don’t remember meeting Tolman. I tried to make it a practice in those early days, when I went to a place such as Mount Wilson, to circulate around and talk to everybody. And I must have talked with Hubble about what he was doing, what he was interested in, what the problems were — spent an hour or so with him. But I don’t remember anything — I don’t remember it very clearly. And, of course, one doesn’t get very deeply involved with people in such a short time.
That I talked with Tolman, I rather doubt, because he would have been on the Cal Tech campus.
And while I may have stayed at the Athenaeum, I didn’t talk much with the Cal Tech people.
You were at Santa Barbara St. primarily?
Were you up on the mountain at all?
But not to do any observing?
Not to do observing, on that occasion. In later years, I did quite a bit of observing.
Well, I eventually would like to ask you about that paper, but that's not as important as some of the other items. During your Princeton years, what courses did you take from Dr. Russell?
I went to a number of talks he gave. — I remember one on the, [and it may be that I remember this because I still sometimes consult my own notes — I took detailed notes on all the lectures that I went to] subject of the analysis of observations, on least squares. I still use those notes. It refreshes my memory of having gone to his lectures.
But, what else did I go to of Russell's? I remember that I was always fascinated to hear him talk, because he had such enthusiasm, such a wide sweep of ideas, and he would be carried away by his subject matter, and I was fascinated by the way his mind worked, because it appealed to me — the sort of things I too was interested in, what physical processes were and how everything interacted.
Since I was obviously interested in what he was saying, most of the time — you know a way a lecturer likes to look at people who are responding. So most of the lecture, he addressed to me, because I was responding with my facial expression to what he was saying. But he would get carried away and talk for hours. He was just supposed to talk for perhaps 45 minutes. He would go on for an hour and a half, sometimes more.
Did he ever talk about stellar evolution explicitly?
I can check my own notes, if you wish me to do so. [Note added later: I could find no reference to stellar evolution in the notes I took on his astrophysics course — lots of other topics, binary stars, stellar atmospheres, stellar masses, etc.]
Possibly we could do that afterwards. I would probably like to look at them, in any event. But during this period, of course, we have some extremely important advances in sources of stellar energy.
We also have Stromgren's work, Kuipers' work, getting to some idea of what the significance of Trumpler's cluster diagrams were all about.
And yet, we don't really have a clearcut view of what we would call the vestiges, the early vestiges of what we call present modern theories of evolution, even though everything was getting together at that time. It was a very chaotic period, very unsure period in stellar evolution work. How did Russell seem to regard this, plus theoretical astrophysics, plus the whole state of astronomy at that time? What were your general impressions?
Well, his formal lectures, of course, were one thing, and I don't remember those so very clearly. I can look up what I wrote down.What I am inclined to remember is more some of the informal discussions, when we sat around in the library of the old observatory and talked about various problems.
And at the time, he was revising the first volume of his astronomy text,which of course is on the solar system, and in these informal discussions we went through that volume. I don't know whether the purpose of it was to help him, because it tied in with what he was doing, or what. But we went through much of that volume, and discussed some of the up-to-date advances in planetary physics. And Ray Lyttleton was there at the time. It was partly at that time that my interest began in the theories of the origin of the solar system, which of course Russell had a longstanding interest in.
Right. Certainly. Was it there that you actually considered some of Russell's suggestions about the amount of material that would have to be ripped off of the sun in order to form the planets, and how the mean temperature of this material was too hot?
I may have gotten started here, although I think my main work on that was done when I got to Harvard in 1938.
We can reserve that.
There, again, I can probably check that, because I probably have my original computations on that subject. I could just look at the date.
On the manner of all of the written record, of course, we want to encourage you to preserve all this material, because the Oral History can very well act as an organizing element for your written material. By all means, we're interested in your preservation, that material, especially since they are lectures with so many extremely important, influential people, at critical times. Well, did this work on the question of condensing filaments drawn off from the sun also have to do with getting interested in conditions in the interstellar medium? You considered a cylindrical distribution of matter, under various conditions — how long would it take for the energy to be radiated, and would there be dissipative convection during that time, that sort of thing. And later on, I know that you were quite influential, at least Russell acknowledged your work on initial collapse conditions and equilibrium conditions in interstellar medium. Your interests began to change into these directions, it seems, during this period at Princeton. So you must have had some extensive discussions with Russell, or in groups involving Russell. At least this is my conjecture.
Yes. I'm sure that's right. In my younger days I had a lively interest in any problems of theory to which I could make a contribution. I tried, at that time, to familiarize myself quite broadly with all of theoretical astrophysics. That is not so possible any more.
And as different things came up, my interest then went in different ways. But while I was in Cambridge, I put a lot of time into trying to understand stellar atmosphere theory. And it's that that give the background that was needed for that work on the dissipation of planetary filaments — at least on the radiative loss.
That's interesting. You had at least three or four papers, '39, '40, '41 on, again, Fraunhofer lines, line profile work that dealt with solar atmosphere problems; and even your work on the M-Supergiants dealt with line profiles. Dealing with that just momentarily, am I correct that you said that Russell had suggested this?
He suggested the general topic — that is, using Adams's plate material for a detailed PhD thesis.
Did he talk philosophically at all about the importance of establishing a solid interface between theory and observation? Was he trying to give you some experience, do you feel, now, with this kind of interface?
Well, I don't remember his making any general comments on that. Certainly his whole philosophy was at all times to keep in close touch with observations in his theoretical work — his going out to Mount Wilson and talking with al I the observers. He was very familiar with the interrelationships between observations and theory. I think, I have the impression that, just looking at these plates, he felt that they had a tremendous amount of material that must mean something, and thought it would be appropriate for somebody like me who was interested in applying physical theory to the stars. I don't remember his making any very specific suggestions. In fact, when I wrote most of my thesis, he wasn't even here, because he went out to Mount Wilson every spring term, I think.
He went out that frequently?
I think it was every year for a few months anyway. And so, in the final stages of my thesis, he wasn't here, and I don't remember his really influencing my work particularly, in that specific area.
The other astronomers who were here at that time — Dugan and Stewart?
Dugan. Yes, I saw more of him that last year than I did of Russell, because he was really running the department. Russell had the title, but Dugan did most of the work.
What was their relationship?
Well, of course, I was never really aware of what their personal relationship was, but it must have been a sort of a symbiotic relationship, because I think he must have had a deep respect for Russell, and his ability. And he was willing to do Russell's work running the department, I presume because he knew it was useful and he wanted to make a contribution to the department. But his own work was entirely visual observations of eclipsing binaries, which was first rate. But a very narrow field. He didn't have anything like Russell's breadth or scope.
Russell's main pervading thread, in his career, of course, was binary work, eclipsing binaries.
One of the main threads. But working with Russell must have had its difficulties. I don't think ·Russell was very successful — at least, there were certain areas where his strengths were more in dealing with the physical theory than they were in dealing with people. But I believe he had very happy relationships with Dugan.
I think John Stewart felt somewhat let down by Russell in some parts of his career. He did very brilliant work, and got sort of turned off from astronomy. Now, how much of that was due to his relationship with Russell and how much of it was due to other things, I don't know.
But John Stewart was here from the fifties, was he not?
Yes. He was here when I came — an associate professor, in fact.
Yes, he maintained at the associate professor level. I was sorry to miss him. He died just several years ago, I understand.
But he did some very important pioneering work on ionization in the solar atmosphere. I think he felt that Russell hadn’t given him credit for what he'd done.
We’ll have to look into that period, because the period around, oh, the late twenties, the early thirties, was an extremely important one. That might have been after Stewart's work. I'm not too sure of the exact period. But that would be something for me to look up. Charlotte Moore Sitterly was here.
Did you have contacts with her?
Yes, I've known her. There again, I didn't really discuss we didn't have many common interests. My work in theoretical astrophysics didn't bear much on hers. But I had a deep respect for her ability, the importance of her work.
Was she married when you knew her?
I do not think so. I believe she married after she went to Washington.
[B.W. Sitterly] just died.
Yes, unfortunately. That was a set back for the symposium. He was going to update his VISTAS article, on changing interpretations of the H-R diagram.
Then nothing particularly comes to mind, even from your informal discussions with Russell, during this period of time when you were a graduate student, regarding speculation as to the possible course of evolution, stellar evolution? Was there any talk still of the main sequence? As an evolutionary track?
We must have discussed it at some stage. It's obviously one of the important areas of astronomy. But I don't remember.
Yes. Ok. Now, upon leaving, graduating from Princeton, you did not go to Wilson at that time, but you went directly to Harvard for the year, an NRC postdoctoral fellow?
Yes, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard in 1938-39. The summer of 1938 I spent in Switzerland with my parents and my brother.
There's another fellow here, Rupert Wildt.
Oh, yes. Yes. I got to know Rupert quite well.
While you were here as a grad student?
Yes. I must have met him here in Princeton at that time. He had a very lively, lively mind, and very broad training in other fields, which served him in very good stead. During the war I persuaded him to join our work in New York, on undersea warfare. I was largely responsible for getting him to come to Yale afterwards.
Did Wildt talk at all about his experiences in Germany? When he came over? How did he feel about it?
I don't remember any discussion on that subject.
I know that you acknowledge him in at least one or two of your papers, and later you collaborated together.
That was with Schwarzschild.
Yes, that was after I'd left Yale.
Was this basically his expertise in radiative transfer that you were drawing upon at that time? Certainly he was a great theoretician.
I don't remember how we divided up the subject matter in that paper.
Well, that particular paper is getting ahead of the game a little bit, so maybe we can come back to that later. Other than that one lecture you mentioned, did you have any contact with Einstein?
Not really. My main contacts with Einstein were when we had distinguished visitors who would ask if I wouldn't please introduce them to Einstein, which I did on a number of occasions. We'd go out to the Institute and have some nice little chats with the great man, and I never dared to talk to him on these occasions. He came to some of our colloquia at the Old Observatory. So I got to know him a bit. But not really professionally.
Could you evaluate how he and Russell interacted? Did you ever see them together for any extended periods of time?
No, I can't. I can't give you anything on that.
OK. Well, I'm also trying to develop along the lines of the influences that had you writing and working on particular papers when you did. I think we've clarified the source of the M-Supergiant work. But what of the Hubble-Tolman work?
I'm a little hazy about that, but I think I must have gotten interested in that when I was at Harvard. Now, is that consistent with the publication record?
That was published in the OBSERVATORY in 1938.
You wrote it while you were here at Princeton. You noted an acknowledgement to H.P. Robertson.
Yes. Yes. I think this was shortly before he moved to Cal Tech. He was on the faculty here for years.
It didn't come from Eddington.
No, I don't think so. I believe that Robertson must have aroused my interest in that problem during my last year in the Princeton Graduate School.
Since you were showing that Eddington's analysis was basically the same as the Hubble-Tolman
— yes —
— that they were supportive of one another. In Robertson discussing this with you, do you recall anything other than just the theoretical discussion of the assumption of frequency distribution? Because there's another very important element in Hubble's work, and that is, of course, how well he actually went about doing the observations, the galaxy counts, and that sort of thing. Was that of interest to you at all?
Quite likely, but I fear I don't remember.
OK. Let's move on to dissipation of planetary filaments.
Now, what's the date at which that was submitted?
It does not have a submission date, but you have the writing date of April 27th, 1939, so that was written at Harvard.
Yes. Yes, that was my recollection.
Now, here we involve Lyttleton and Luyton and Russell and others. You certainly had contact with Lyttleton and Russell.
Could you recall how you became interested in this particular kind of problem? Did you have any feelings that you knew you were going to be going against Lyttleton's ideas? Did you ever have discussions where both Lyttleton and Russell were involved? Where they might have disagreed, as quite obviously they did?
I think so. I don't remember now exactly how long Lyttleton was in Princeton, but I believe it was for a substantial period. I think I vaguely remember sitting around the old library table, and having a number of discussions with Lyttleton and Russell, on some of these problems. But I don't remember very specifically what led to the particular paper that I wrote there. There must have been something that came up later, because as I remember, this paper was written in quite a short time. So it must have all happened rather quickly. And the impetus may have come from discussions with various people at Harvard.
Yes. The reason why I'm interested in the origins: many of the people that you reference were at various places where you were, at those times. Like Jeffries was at Cambridge University, of course, when you were there. And I'm just wondering if you had discussions with them?
No, not with Jeffries.
He was always very interesting.
Yes. I was not at that time particularly familiar with his work, but certainly he's a very outstanding person.
Well, in the development of this paper, then, nothing stands out in your mind, as far as discussions with Lyttleton or Russell about it, as influencing some of the assumptions that had to be made about mean temperatures of the dissipated gas, the nature of the collisions, the frequency of collisions, that sort of thing?
I don't think so. There must have been — I wish I could remember just how I happened to get back to this topic again. There must have been some discussion that got me started on this, either at Harvard, or maybe I was back at Princeton and got together with Russell at that time and renewed my interest.
Here, let me change the tape.
Through Russell, or through Lyttleton, you heard of the –-
— I would assume. That's what I would suspect. I didn't do the scholarly research that would be required to turn out a paper like that. I'll bet somebody told me about it.
Did you have any contact at all with Rutherford, Ernest Rutherford, when you were at Cambridge?
Because he was a student of Bickerton. And he always had felt that Bickerton should be remembered. Although he didn't believe everything that Bickerton talked about.
How old was Rutherford in ’38? In ’36?
How old was he?
He must have been very old. I don’t even know. I know he was there, though. He was still listed on the staff — Cambridge.
I don't think he was lecturing. I don't think I ever met him
Yes, OK. I'm just looking for these connections.
Yes, a natural question.
All right. You treat the gas as a polytrope?
Did you record the specifics about this paper? Do you think there's anything we should go through? Your conclusions are quite important. Maybe we should stick with those.
I don't even remember exactly what I did. I remember the conclusions, and I remember thinking about it, in my room up in Dunster House.
This was at Harvard?
Do you remember what was going through your mind when you had arrived at the conclusion that the encounter theory was not tenable? I think if we stick with that basic element ....
We have finished lunch so there's been an extensive break, and when we took the lunch break we were just finishing with your war experiences, with World War II, and we could pick up then with your return to Yale. You returned as an associate professor?
Yes, and head of an astrophysics program that was set up there, and this was a joint appointment between physics and astronomy. I was only there for a year and a half before I came to Princeton. In fact, I'd been offered a position here at Princeton before I returned to Yale.
During the war?
At the end of the war. I came down and discussed it with Russell. This did not involve the directorship of the observatory, and after thinking it over I felt that I might be more likely to be considered for that position if I went back to Yale than if I came to Princeton and was on the spot. I’d always been interested in the possibility. I'd always felt that the directorship here would be a position I'd most enjoy having.
So, I returned to Yale hoping that perhaps I would be asked to return to Princeton at a later date, in a somewhat higher capacity. We actually bought a house, but we didn't furnish it in the way we'd really planned in the long run, because we were hoping to leave it again. The effort would have been wasted.
This was in New Haven?
In New Haven, yes, just outside New Haven.
Where did you live?
On Ridge Road, Hamden, just outside New Haven. I had an interesting year and a half in Yale. But I didn't hear anything from Princeton. Then I happened to run into Harlow Shapley at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, and I asked him what had happened back at Princeton. He told me that they had offered the directorship to Chandrasekhar, and that Chandra had tentatively accepted it. Either then or later I was told that Chandra had changed his mind and decided to stay at Chicago when they put pressure on him back there and offered him a research professorship or some very prestigious professorship. I told Shapley at Madison that I'd been hoping that I would be offered the Princeton directorship, and that we hadn't papered our dining room until the situation became more definite.
He said, oh, he hadn't realized that I'd really wanted that position. He apparently ran sort of an informal employment bureau for most of the universities interested in employing astronomers, and he got in touch with Princeton and served as intermediary. And it finally ended up by my being offered the position at Princeton after all.
So I left Yale and came here.
One of the reasons that I was interested in leaving Yale and coming to Princeton is that I'd always been a great admirer of Martin Schwarzschild's since I'd first met him. I'd tried to persuade him to join me at Yale, when they agreed to provide one new appointment, and Martin came to New Haven and looked it over. He finally decided that my astrophysics unit, straddling the departments of physics and astronomy, was sort of an administrative oddity, and he didn't trust this type of arrangement much. He concluded that he would be happier in a regular department. So he stayed at Columbia, although he told me that in the long run he would probably wish to go elsewhere, since he did not care much for New York. So I thought that by coming to Princeton I would have a better chance of persuading Martin to come with me and set up as partners in a department, and it worked out that way.
What was the actual administrative understanding with this astrophysics unit at Yale?
Well, it was an interdepartmental program. And Martin is perfectly right, that these interdepartmental programs have their administrative difficulties. There are many such programs here at Princeton, as in other universities. Sometimes they work fine. Sometimes they don't work so well. But they have no organized permanent status as departments have. The members usually require some sort of departmental affiliation.
Direct affiliation with one department or another or both and administratively they have their complications. Yale did it just to do something that would appeal to me, and keep me at New Haven — which it did, for a while.
What was your relationship then with the astronomy department as it stands? When you were first there before the war?
That was just straight physics.
That was straight physics and Schlesinger was still there, but by the time you went back, Schlesinger had just died.
I think so, and Brouwer was the chairman, whom I liked and respected very, very much. But I wanted to feel I had some independence, some scope for expanding the research and studies of astrophysics, at Yale. And the university quite properly didn't want to set up a new department of astrophysics — that would have been an anomaly — so they set up an astrophysical program, sponsored jointly by the department of physics and astronomy.
And yet within the department of astronomy itself, you didn't feel that there was any chance of expansion of astrophysical interests?
Oh, yes. Yes, there was some. In fact, Rupert Wildt I think initially had the same kind of joint appointment in physics and astronomy as I had. When Martin turned us down, we offered the position to Wildt.
Oh, he went there that early, in the mid-forties?
I see. I didn't realize that.
He was at Yale before I left to come back to Princeton. In '46. And Yale was very cooperative, but it wasn't quite the same as being the director of an established department, being able to guide the department as a whole, into the sort of thing that one was interested in. And Yale was not a terribly appropriate place at that time for an astrophysics group anyway.
Well, its background. It has an ongoing program in astrometry, in parallax astronomy, and celestial mechanics, and I think quite wisely they didn't want to detract from those efforts. So anything in astrophysics had to be additional, and it didn't quite tie in with the work of the established programs of the observatory.
But here at Princeton, astrophysics was the main stock in trade. It was a much more logical place for me to come to.
Well, that's an administrative digression.
No, no, that's a very important aspect of the difference in institutions.
And that certainly is directly along lines that we're interested in, in the growth of American astrophysics. You can see it, I think, in the differences between these two institutions, at least in the amount of research oriented industry that has developed up around Princeton as opposed to Yale. It seems as if Princeton is much more developed in every aspect of the sciences. You've had good contacts with both institutions, and with Harvard too, and I was wondering if you had any comments on that? I mean, what you're saying seems to somewhat go along these lines.
Well, for many years science or scientists were regarded as second class citizens at Yale. The Sheffield Scientific School was set apart from the college. The same thing was done at Princeton. There was the John C. Green School of Applied Science. But that was abolished here relatively early. Science was absorbed into the main body of the university, and physics and chemistry and astronomy and mathematics became important topics in the main undergraduate curriculum. At Yale, that didn't happen. The scientific school remained separate. When I was at Yale, I had the option of taking a BS in science and being in the Sheffield Scientific School, or taking a BA in physics and being in Yale College. Since I preferred to be in Yale College, I got the BA. In fact, my curriculum in physics would doubtless have been much the same in either.
Now that's been abolished at Yale, and the university has made big efforts to upgrade the sciences. And I presume they've been successful. I haven't been in touch with the situation at Yale for years.
Well, astronomy is thriving.
Astronomy is thriving. Now they've finally converted more to the sort of astrophysics that Martin and I are interested in.
Certainly they have.
It's taken a long time.
That would bring us up close to the present. In the past, have you had any contact with Yale in causing this change to come about?
Some. Yale has an organization called the Yale Council, with posts for alumni. Each member of the Council is chairman of a committee that reviews some area of the university's activities. I was chairman of the committee on the natural sciences, and we would go there once a year for two or three days, and each time discuss the problems of some department, and make reports to the corporation as to what should be done to try to improve the sciences. I don't know that we had any effect, but that's the sort of effort that many groups have made over the years, and reinforced the administration's own attempts to upgrade science at Yale.
Well, now that I know that Wildt came in the forties and was there all through the fifties and sixties —
Till his death just a few years ago. And Brouwer of course being the director of the department remained the dominant force until at least ‘65, '66.
And at that point there was a major change with Professor Demarque coming in.
Did you have anything to do with that change?
No. No, I did not. I was on visiting committees at Yale for various people at different times, but not for that particular occasion.
OK. Let's move on back, then. Beyond Shapley's work as a go-between, were there any other people involved? Because '47 was a very interesting year at a number of institutions for change of directorship. Shapley retired too that year, same year as Russell actually, and that was the year I believe when there was a bigchangeover at Yerkes — I believe that's when Stromgren came in, as director at Yerkes. Did he replace Struve? Do I have that correct or am I backwards?
He followed Struve, I believe.
Then Struve did give up the position in '47 and go to Berkeley or some other place like that, yes. But that '47 is an interesting year to look at. Does this have anything to do with — well, this is well after the war ended.
The war had ended in '45. Summer of '45. Things got shaken down.
Exactly. This is what I'd like to get your impressions about. Was there a certain shakedown period after the war ended? And what kind of effect did this have on the astronomical discipline? In your experiences?
Well, here at Princeton, Rosseland came here to take the place of Russell as director, or at least to be as a member — maybe it was just to be on the faculty, but with the idea maybe, I think, that he was going to be the director. But in any case, he and his wife decided after the war, when it was possible to return to Norway, that they would in fact return. She was unhappy here. And that happened about as soon as it could happen at the end of the war.
So Rosseland was here during the war.
During the closing years of the war. His getting from Norway to Princeton was quite a saga in itself. He had to cross Siberia, and get smuggled out of Norway. It's quite a long story.
I've heard of things like this happening, but I didn't know any particular instances. Who would know about the Rosseland story the most? Would Dr. Schwarzschild, do you think?
He's more likely to than I, because he was closer to Rosseland.
He worked with Rosseland?
For a year.
Let's see, did we actually talk about any other names other than Shapley in being influential in bringing you here?
Bringing me here to Princeton?
No, I don't think so. Well, of course, Russell.
I imagine he was in favor of it?
I've always assumed so. I was a student of his, and he seemed very enthusiastic when I was here, and Hugh Taylor was dean at the time, and — but I came down and visited the Russells and stayed with them and talked with various people.
The conditions of your coming as director — did you place any conditions of future support by the university upon your being the director? What kinds of understandings did you have with the administration?
I sent them a memorandum. In fact, Shapley phoned me up and said that they were interested in making me an offer, but they quite naturally didn't want to just embark on negotiations whose only purpose would be to improve my position at Yale. What I should do was to send a memorandum stating the conditions under which I would accept an offer from Princeton. So what I did was to outline a little program, describing the way I visualized the observatory going, including one additional appointment, which would be Martin Schwarzschild, and an assured departmental research income of $20,000 a year, to provide flexible funds for various purposes — visitors, travel, research papers, things of that kind.
What about the direction of research?
This was not specified exactly. I made it clear that my own interest was in theoretical astrophysics, and if I came here and Martin came here — Martin's interest was in the same field — that that would be the area we wanted to push. We were anxious to promote the growth of graduate education in this area. That fitted in very nicely with what the university wanted anyway.
Yes. Well, within a very few years of your establishing the directorship here, you wrote a number of popular papers supporting scientific research in space, and then, of course, came the Stellerator and the Matterhorn Project. Does this have something to do with your mountain climbing? Naming it that?
Yes. Yes, entirely. After it had been going a few years, my wife and I went over and climbed the mountain, so we could say we had.
That's marvelous. Mountain climbing is very much in my wife's family. Her grandfather was the guide for the Japanese Emperor's brother when they climbed the Matterhorn in the thirties.
You have very direct interests that were developing, in addition to your ongoing research interests in the interstellar medium. You applied what you knew about physics of the interstellar medium to the Stellerator program, and then you started promoting space research at a very early time.
I'd first like to ask you about the space research. It seems, I don't have my dates exact, but this seems to be very close to the time that Arthur Clarke was supporting, or at least writing speculatively about communications satellites and the uses of space. Were you in contact at all with his writings at that time?
I think, didn't he write some things for some of the science fiction magazines?
I think so. I think so.
But he did more than that.
Oh, yes, I realize that. I don't know to what extent [my interests] were influenced by his. Certainly the ideas that I had were not new. Herman Oberth in his book, many, many years ago, discussed the possibilities of a big telescope in orbit. But I became interested in this program partly through astronomical friends who were sending up equipment in V-2 rockets that were captured and brought to this country and used for scientific payloads. And partly also through a program that was started up, a classified program then, by the RAND Corporation, considering the possibility of launching an artificial satellite. I don't know how I got involved in that. I guess through friends who were in it and asked me if I'd be interested, and I went out to RAND in Santa Monica a few times. I got quite interested in the possibilities of space vehicles. We talked about the possibility, when I was at Yale, of setting up a space astronomy program there. And I talked with Leo Goldberg. In fact, we made Leo an offer to come to Yale, I think as an associate professor, and it was partly in response to that offer that they offered him the directorship at Michigan. So I thought I was of some use to astronomy [laughter].
But he and I drew up a program on different programs that might be carried out in the field of space astronomy, and, when I talked to Martin Schwarzschild about the possibility of coming to Princeton, he raised the question of how likely it was that I would actually stay at Princeton. I replied that the only two possibilities I could think of that would take me away from Princeton were, first of all, if I had the offer of director at Harvard, I would consider that very seriously. And secondly, if there were a possibility of sending up a big telescope into orbit, and that were being done somewhere else, I would be very seriously interested in leaving Princeton and associating myself with that enterprise.
I take it then you might have preferred a Harvard position?
I don't know whether I'd have preferred it, but it had more scope, it was a bigger place. I don't know at that time, Princeton was very small. Princeton has grown, but then, so has Harvard. They are relative.
Because there was quite a change at Harvard also.
Especially with Donald Menzel coming in. It's something we want to record some day, and I was wondering, when had you made these statements to Dr. Schwarzschild?
That was in 1946, spring of '47, before we both came here.
So you were both well in contact while you were negotiating with the Princeton people.
And you had included Dr. Schwarzschild —
— as part of my proposal to the university.
That's very interesting. Yes, it's very nice, because you certainly have made a very fine department nucleus.
Well, we've been wonderful friends. We've had a great relationship, I think.
Yes. Well, the question of space research, when you brought it up, in the guise of being director of a major astronomical facility, how were your ideas received by those that you talked to? Did you talk to the public? Did you talk to government?
That's been a long story.
Well, we have to start somewhere.
For years and years, ever since the war, I've been talking about space astronomy to anybody who would be interested enough to listen to me. Jesse Greenstein was a good friend of mine from this period, and he sent up a payload in a V-2 rocket. The only trouble was that the rocket exploded about a hundred feet or so above the launch tower, so all that work was wasted. It sort of soured him on space astronomy for a while!
But when I told him I was getting involved in the OAO program, he shook his head, and said, "Well, Lyman, you're young. You'll live to see it fail" Delightful. [Laughter]
That was already in the sixties, OAO.
Well, what about the early fifties and the late forties, when this was so beyond anyone's expectations and interests, except for maybe Werner von Braun.
Yes, well, most astronomers didn't take it very seriously. They thought I was sort of wide-eyed. Wild-eyed or wide-eyed, one or the other.
Were you really alone in your interests, at that time, do you think?
Among professional astronomers, there weren't very many that were interested. In several of my papers here I wrote an article on perturbations of a satellite orbit, in 1950. And I gave a paper, "Interplanetary Travel between Satellite Orbits," in 1952. And then, I gave a paper at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, on space telescopes and their components — that's 1960. That was a major talk to an astronomical audience.
And how was that received?
Well, some people came up. One man came up and he said, "Lyman," he said, "I admire your courage."
Who was that, do you recall?
I forget whether it was Jason Nassau, whom I knew quite well that's the sort of remark that he might have made, you know, friendly and yet expressing his doubts and reservations.
Where were the doubts coming from? Were they coming from the technological side, from the political side?
Oh, no, no, I think mainly technological. Getting all this stuff to work.
The instrumentation of the rocket?
Well, so little had been done. It was so much beyond our practical experience. This was at a time when a few people were saying we ought to be able to get to the moon. But you know, most people thought this was, this suggestion was ridiculously impractical. And I gave popular lectures around on these same topics. You know, I gave a talk on the beginnings and future of space astronomy in 1962 By this time, I think we'd started on the Copernicus program, hadn't we? That was launched in '72.
And, of course, after the USSR Sputnik was launched (1957), then of course it was easier. But even so, it's been a very slow process, bringing the astronomical community up to the point where they're willing to go along with the idea of major investment of astronomy in space. Of course, now with the Space Telescope, astronomers are pretty much behind that program.
And if it hadn't been for the immediate successes that we've had on the way, it wouldn't have been possible. But the first Stratoscope observations were very successful. The bigger Stratoscope II was a much more intricate program. That took many years, before they finally achieved what they wanted, but it finally operated very, very successfully.
Dr. Schwarzschild was involved in that too, wasn't he?
Yes. But I doubt if he would have gotten involved, if it hadn't been for the general observatory sponsorship of space astronomy, and I sort of pushed him in that direction. He was very happy to be pushed.
You've noted that there was a general reticence by the astronomical community to be aware of the advantages of space research.
Well, they were well aware of the advantages, but did not regard them as serious possibilities. For example, we had this type of reaction, which I'm sure is not unreasonable. There was a big meeting of scientists in Iowa, one of those two or three weeks summer study groups, to consider where the nation should go in space. This was a few years after Sputnik had been launched. OAO had started, but hadn't gotten very far, and a number of us then started to advocate that the planning start now for what we call the "Large Space Telescope," the next stage beyond the OAO. A minority opinion expressed the point of view, which in retrospect seems entirely rational, that at a time when no telescope as large as two inches had been operated successfully in orbit, it seemed a little premature to talk about setting up a 200 inch in orbit.
A 200 inch?
Well; yes, the Large Space Telescope was visualized as an instrument with a mirror between 100 and 200 inches in diameter.
And the Copernicus — the orbiting astronomical program -was committed to sending up a 30 or 40 inch telescope, but it hadn't gotten anywhere yet, and, in fact, the first instrument was a complete failure, and so was the third. But the second and the fourth worked fine. Those successes finally impressed people into believing the ideas were practical.
Yes, absolutely. The fact that you met in Iowa, did that have anything to do with [James] Van Allen?
And was he a promoter of space research, would you say?
In part. Yes, his own space research was certainly very successful. He pioneered using rockets for cosmic ray measurements. He sent his rockets up on balloons, then launched them from a high altitude, from a balloon, and they'd go up a lot higher that way.
How about some other people involved? I know Herbert Friedman had been involved from a very early date. Were you in contact with him?
A little, yes. The people that were interested in solar research made progress much earlier than those of us who were interested in the stars, because guiding on the sun is technically just much easier. It's so bright.
Your exposures are shorter.
Your exposures are shorter, yes, and it's very easy for a rocket to find the sun. So those were the first successes.
When did you have your first contact with military, or not military, just government interests or non-interests in space?
Well, the RAND project in the closing years of the war was, of course, a military-supported enterprise, supported by the Air Force.
Were they always supportive of some of your ideas?
The days I was with RAND they supported almost anything they thought was interesting. It was just a study group, after all. They were interested in exploring different possibilities. I wrote a paper for them on the specific programs that a space telescope could carry out — a space telescope for different sizes.
When was that? Was that a published paper?
No. That was a RAND document, so I'm not even sure it's in here.
At that time was RAND primarily based in Santa Monica, California?
Yes. That's where it was located. Here we are: "Astronomica1 Values of an Extraterrestrial Observatory, Project Rand, 1946." Just at the closing years of the war.
What did you think of the Vanguard program and how it was organized and developed?
I had some contact with that program, but it was relatively peripheral. I have no really interesting observations to make on the organization of that work.
Was it too idealistic? Or was there something wrong with the engineering? Where were their main problems?
Well, my input was really more from the scientific standpoint: what uses could be made of these things once they got up? The Vanguard program itself, I didn't really have that much contact with. I was not involved in that at all. I was only vaguely informed.
So when they switched to Jupiter C's — how did you feel just personally about a military rocket, as opposed to a civilian rocket? Did it mean anything to you, or was it purely pragmatic, just getting it up there and getting it working?
The main disadvantages of the military, using military hardware, is that it may complicate the job of keeping the science unclassified and freely publishable. That's always a concern. Apart from that, I'm not sure that I would have cared that much.
Have you had that problem in the past with the dissemination of information?
Well, I hesitate to mention chapter and verse, but I have the feeling that has been a problem from time to time. Where, I just can't say at the moment.
Would you be interested in talking about it in the future, possibly at a subsequent time?
Well, one trouble is, of course, that things of that sort, since they relate to classified projects — I haven’t kept any records. If I did, I destroyed them. So it would be contribute much to that.
OK. Specially if the material is still classified.
Probably if it hasn't been declassified, it's probably declassifiable now, but that's not quite the same thing.
Yes, that's quite true. As we well know, from several unfortunate things in the last few years. Well then, let's move on back — although we've nowhere near covered your involvement in the space program, specially today with the announcement of scientific opportunities. We don't really want to get into all the stuff in the sixties and seventies just yet. But let's go back and recover your second very unique line of interest, and leave the purely astronomical material for follow-up.
So, the second major interest that you had which really uniquely defines your career, starting in the fifties, was the Stellerator. And from the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article which you wrote in 1958 on its status, or at least on the level of development at that time, you indicated that you had the idea, while on a skiing trip or something. Would you sort of expand on that.
Yes. Right. Well, we'd been interested in Hannes Alfven's work on magnetohydrodynamics — Alfven had stopped off in Princeton and talked to us. And I was training myself in the field, because of its importance in interstellar problems. This was at the time of the Korean War, and it looked as though we were going to get involved in various types of military research again. So I agreed to go in with Johnny Wheeler, in a program of fusion studies, which he intended to be in relationship to the H Bomb. I stopped once at Los Alamos, in December 1950, on the way back from Pasadena, and talked with various people there about various aspects of the H Bomb work. It was agreed that we’d get started here in Princeton the following summer, when Johnny Wheeler was going to return, and we’d set up a small group to carry out theoretical studies.
Could you specify the year, just for the record, again?
1951. Yes. I have to check this by using our daughter's· birthday; Lutie was born in April 1950, and she was a very young baby when we stopped at Los Alamos on the way back from Pasadena that winter.
Then in the spring of 1951, my wife and I were planning to leave for Aspen. The day before, my father, whom I had told something — nothing classified — about some interest in fusion work in Princeton, telephoned me and said, "Well, I understand the Argentines have gotten ahead of you in this fusion program."
He'd seen in a NEW YORK TIMES article that a fellow named Richter had announced that they had solved the controlled fusion problem, that fusion had been released in a controlled manner in Argentina. Peron made quite a thing of it. There was a big series of comments from leading physicists saying it was quite impossible and one should certainty not believe it.
I read the NEW YORK TIMES article. Then we went out to Aspen, my wife and I, and during the intervals out there, when we weren't skiing, I was thinking about this problem. How would one do it, if one were trying to? Especially during chair lift rides, I worked out some of the general ideas that I later developed into the Stellerator. And I continued thinking about this matter when I got back to Princeton, and finally wrote up a report and sent it off to the Atomic Energy Commission. They supported a small theoretical program for a year, '51 - '52, and that grew into a small experimental program. This project went on doubling every year or so, until it got to be quite a large effort.
That basically established the plasma physics work here.
He finally changed the name; when the program was declassified we changed the name to the Plasma Physics Laboratory.
Actually, when Project Matterhorn started, in the summer of 1951, it had two sections, the theoretical bomb studies under Johnny Wheeler, and the controlled fusion studies under me. These were two separate groups. Then after a few years, the explosives work at Princeton stopped, but the other half of the Matterhorn Project continued to grow, and in 1958 became the Plasma Physics Laboratory.
Did you ever have any direct interest in the bomb, or did you prefer to stay out of it?
I sort of preferred to stay out of it, although I had general administrative responsibility for all the Matterhorn work originally. I much preferred the controlled fusion, which I thought was a fascinating idea, and still do.
What about Johnny Wheeler?
He took a much more direct interest in the explosives work. But then he'd been out at Los Alamos and had worked there, on what they called the "Super," with Teller and others.
Well, now, in the development of the Stellarator and the design changes that you'd gone through to contain the field, and your eventual ideas about using magnetic pumping to bring the temperature up sufficiently most of these scientific aspects have been pretty well documented, but what about your own staff? How did you go about choosing a staff that had a very good experimental background, as well as an appreciation for the incredible conditions that were involved?
The experimental staff — at first we had theorists only. Then we added Tom Stix, who was a Princeton graduate student from physics. It was difficult to add staff in those days because we couldn't say what we were doing, and our salary scale wasn't that high, so we had to make people offers without really telling them anything or paying them much money. But we did accumulate a few people.
Did you find it was hard accumulating the best people under these classified conditions?
Yes. Yes. We got one very good man on a temporary basis, and that was Jim van Allen. He came and headed our experimental group for a year, or maybe it was two years, I don't know. He was a good person and he was able to recruit some good people.
And some of the best people that we got, we got right in the very early days of the program when we were just starting, and people felt pushed into things because of the Korean War. Ed Frieman had been with Johnny Wheeler's bomb study group, and he shifted over to the controlled program. We got a number of good people. But after the first flush of expansion, and getting a few good people, then the interest sort of waned, and it was very hard to get — in a classified activity — to get really top people. But then with declassification, it got easier again.
And it was declassified about '56, ‘57?
'58, I remember with the Geneva Atoms-for-Peace Conference.
'58, and then you wrote the article the same year?
At that point, then, how did things progress, beyond that point? Because at that point you had obtained very high temperatures, but you were still not within fusion range.
That's right. That's right. Well, we had troubles with instabilities. I forget the details now, the chronologies, on a year to year basis, but by 1966, when I left the program, things had somewhat leveled off. We seemed to be accumulating evidence of a certain type of instability that we called "pump-out," that sent the plasma to the wall, but which we didn't understand. This effect is still not entirely understood, but by going to bigger diameter devices they've now temperature sufficiently high so that this phenomenon just doesn’t occur. And so things are back on the road again, and look really very encouraging.
What is your prognosis for the future?
Well, one doesn't know, but things look sufficiently promising so that they're building a much larger device now, with a cost of several hundred million dollars, that's supposed to be a sort of a prototype for an actual full scale reactor.
Where is that?
Right here at Princeton.
Underground some place?
No, they haven't started. It's just in the design phase. It will be quite a few years before that's operating.
I would like to be able to get deeper into the Stellarator program, but I don't know exactly how.
Well, of course, I left in 1966, and I have really not been active since. And I'm kind of out of touch technically. I know the top people, and I see them, and I'm on an administrative committee that reviews their problems, but that's not the same as actively working in the program.
Well, we'd be interested in your period of time, then. I think we've identified the problems with classified research, but did you have other types of problems that you encountered with this research, other than overcoming technological problems with the design? How were decisions made in this program? Did you have decision by committee? Design decisions and that sort of thing?
Well, I was sort of in charge, and I had some good people that worked with me. For example, in the Model C Stellarator, I was essentially in charge of the group that supervised the design and construction — the Princeton group that gave directives to industrial firms that were building it for us. Allis Chalmers and RCA. They assembled a group right here in Princeton. Any major decisions on the size and scope of the machine had to go to Washington and be approved by a review committee that they set up with representatives from the other laboratories — large decisions that involved big budgetary consequences. Smaller design changes didn't require such formal approaches, and I don't remember any real difficulties.
I have the impression that there's much more of an effort at the present time to exert more detailed control of these programs from Washington.
On the other hand, if you have good people and they have sound reasons for what they're trying to do, they can usually get it done. But it takes more discussion than it used to.
Yes. I guess it isn't really proper to ask you about the present work, seeing that this was a past project with you in many regards.
Let's get back to the early sixties, with a rather important committee that you were on, the Greenstein Committee, on the Future of Ground-based Astronomy. You were on that committee between about '68 and ‘72?
Is that right? Was if four years? I’d forgotten.
Yes, '68 to ‘72. It just seems a bit too recent, but I guess that's when the committee was on there. Did you find yourself in a minority by that time?
Well, everybody was a minority. Everybody had his own pet project. That was generally true.
But this was the future of ground-based astronomy, or was it just the future of research?
No, the future of astronomy, because they included space programs, and they had some kind words to say about the Large Space Telescope even. But I've forgotten most of the meetings of that committee. What I mainly remember is one crucial meeting, at MIT, where we finally assigned priorities to all the different programs. That was a meeting that nobody dared cut. And we hammered out a program.
The same thing happened to the Astronomy Missions Board and some of the other programs. If you have a tactful leadership and a conviction on the part of the members that it's to their interest to agree on something, usually they do finally end up by agreeing. The process is painful. Some people's interests don't get recognized as much as they would wish. Some people's pet programs don't get as high priority as they wished. But I think it was a fairly well reasoned set of recommendations that we came out with.
Did you find, or looking back at it now, this kind of project, actually astronomers getting together and assessing the entire discipline, seems to be a relatively new phenomenon in organized astronomy, even though from time to time, of course, the IAU, just by virtue of having its meetings, will publish a "state of astronomy" type of a review, or we would have yearly reports of the Council of the Astronomical Society. Do you see any fundamental change in the astronomical community in the last few decades that might be described as a greater self-awareness of astronomy as a finite whole, a group of people?
The increasing specialization of astronomy, of course, has been an influence pushing in exactly the opposite direction. What has sort of pushed astronomers in the direction of considering their subject as a whole is just the budgetary necessity. There are more big programs, and Congress is less willing to approve funds endlessly for bigger and bigger programs. So it's been to the self-interest of all astronomers to have an integrated balanced program that they can all defend, which then has some chance of moving forward, generally.
This idea of funding very large and very expensive projects certainly isn’t new, because you go back every time you want to build a bigger telescope. You needed what at the time was an incredible amount of money.
Yes, but it was done in quite a different way. Really one person would sell it to one donor, mainly.
And now it's quite different. It's the federal government, and Congress and Congressional committees, and two authorization committees and two appropriations committees, and a much broader reference is required. And anyone program in astronomy impinges on all of the others, because there is just so much money to go around. That's not quite true, but it tends to be true.
Has this made astronomy become a far more competitive field, among a greater number of people, as opposed to the sort of network that you experienced, where one found a job through go-betweens, let's say, as you mentioned with Shapley? This kind of thing doesn't happen any more?
Well, finding a job may still be somewhat similar to what it was before. But for getting big programs organized, the policies and procedures certainly are different from what they used to be. One didn't have such very big programs before, but one had smaller programs and one sold them in different ways to different people.
Now it's high level astronomical politics that emerges.
Was this political structure visible?
Whenever you're dealing with people, if there are more than two or three people, one gets into semi-political problems. But the number of people involved has been going up, in these various decisions, so the political fraction is more and more evident, perhaps, than it was before.
OK. We have defined then in this session your early professional development. I hope in your opinion, too, when you read the transcript, covered it reasonably well. And we progressed up through your attainment of the chairmanship here at Princeton, and then at least touched upon the Ste1larator and the other work in the space program, at least the beginnings of it.
I thank you very much for this long session. We will, of course — this should go on the tape — not make this tape available to anyone, or its transcript, without your express knowledge and approval, as defined in the permission forms that we will be sending you, with an edited transcript.
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