Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Albert Whitford by David DeVorkin on 1978 July 17, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5147-2
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Interview centers around early life in Wisconsin; family background in Milton, Wisconsin; physics at Wisconsin and graduate work there; quantum mechanics under J.H. van Vleck and spectroscopy with Julius Ellis Mack and Mendenhall's influence; contact with astronomy and work for Joel Stebbins circa 1930; NRC Fellowship at Mount Wilson and contact with I.S. Bowen: work in spectro-scopy; influence of Trumpler and work on interstellar absorption; recollections of relations between East Coast and West Coast observatories; contact with Hale's associates; Shapley's regard for 200-inch and for existence of galaxies; continuation of work with Stebbins, at Wisconsin and Mount Wilson and continual choice between developmental work or production work in photoelectric photometry; John Hall's cesium oxide cells and a photoelectric guider; reception of electronics in astronomy pre and post war; growth of use of photomultipliers at Wisconsin: contact with V. Zworykin and use of tube in guider; collaboration with G. Kron; multicolor work with Stebbins; the "Stebbins-Whitford Effect" and its resolution with Code-Whitford spectrum scanner; research during World War II on radar at MIT; projects at MIT; post war changes in astronomy due to technology; Wisconsin after the war, Stebbins’ retirement; director at Washburn and micron survey of galactic bulge, 1945–1946; increased contacts at Lick Observatory; development of Wisconsin graduate program; origins of Kitt Peak and the Flagstaff Conference; move to Lick Observatory in 1958; conditions at Lick after Shanets and Sproults retirements; ApJ Editorial Board, 1947–1951; spiral structure of the galaxy, 1953.
We have just been discussing informally some of my own research interests, and you indicated that you have some recollections of Henry Norris Russell.
I’m not sure that I can recall the first time that I saw Henry Norris Russell, but one of the early times was when he was visiting in Pasadena as research associate of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Joel Stebbins, with whom I was long associated, as we described last time, was also a research associate of the Carnegie Institution. I think these visiting appointments had gone back to Hale’s time. Both Russell and Stebbins came regularly. Some of the others were more honorary appointments, and had to be urged to visit, if they did visit at all. One would have to go back to the Carnegie yearbooks of the early- and mid-thirties to get the official list. I don’t remember it now.
I certainly know from my work thus far that Russell and Stebbins were the two most long lasting and serious associates.
Yes. And Russell had a particular office adjacent to the library in the building on Santa Barbara Street. This office, which was a rather honored place, was lined with books that had overflowed from the library because of insufficient
As one entered the front door, one could go on through the gates to the library, which was three or four steps down. If you turned sharply left, you would enter his office. If you turned right, you went into the librarian’s office.
I doubt that I had very many personal conversations with him, but I listened to some things that went on in the hall. He was encyclopedic in his interests and knowledge. He spoke in extremely well formed sentences, beautiful English, and had fascinating quotations from classical astronomers and other figures. I think it was during this period that he gathered some of the material and wrote has classic paper on molecules in the sun and the stars. I remember these things were fairly fresh then.
There was an anecdote, which I recounted one before in a paper for the American Academy historical program, but I will repeat now. Theodore Dunham had been one of his bright pupils and was also active in the observatory in those days. In fact, he was responsible for getting together the first high performance Coude spectrograph. People heaved a sigh of relief when he was called off to war activities, because then he stopped rebuilding it, and it stayed the same from month to month, and people got a chance to engage in a sustained program. (Laughter) Indeed, Walter S. Adams’ classic study of the interstellar lines, in which he first showed that many of them were multiple, was done with this spectrograph. The calcium H and K lines — showed that there were multiple clouds along the line of sight.
But this is by way of leading up to the anecdote. Dunham took Henry Norris Russell up to the mountain to watch him (Dunham) observe with the Coude spectrograph, and seated him on a chair on a hard iron platform near the slit. This was in a lower room beside the enormous drive wheel that turns the telescope to follow the stars. And there weren’t many protective railings. By modern safety standards, it wouldn’t have passed.
Well, while Dunham observed the stars, Henry Norris Russell, who was easily turned on with a fascinating discourse of anecdotes and recollections, began talking. And Dunham didn’t notice that the chair’s legs were getting closer and closer to the edge of the platform. Pretty soon the went over, and so did Henry Norris Russell.
Well, many a famous astronomer has fallen off a telescope. I can’t verify it, but I think Herschel did. I couldn’t find it in the literature.
Herschel did too?
I’m not sure. You’d have to look. I looked through Caroline’s anecdotes. I couldn’t find it. She was worried that he would. Actually, it didn’t hurt Russell at all. He was in his late sixties or seventies by this time. He got back in the chair and went on as if nothing had happened, and finished his story.
Well, this was one of the legends around the observatory. I didn’t personally observe it.
Were there colloquia at the observatory during the summers?
Usually not during the summers. Then I remember Russell, as I was becoming more and more of an astronomer and less of a physicist, at the astronomical meetings. I remember particularly an early one that went to in Bloomington, Ind., when Robert Aitken was president. This must have been, I would guess, 1936 or 1937. Russell was a very prominent figure on the front row, and after there had been a few scattered questions elicited by the chairman or volunteered from the floor, hen there would come a really wise question or Comment from Russell. It didn’t happen on every paper, but when it did come, it ended with a comment that gave the perspective of all this work and what it meant, and all phrased in this marvelously smooth flow of what I called King James English. It wasn’t “thee” and “thou,” but it had that classical finished English prose character hat does not come out in most people’s random conversation. One could call it a benediction.
So he gave his “benediction” to most of the papers. Did you ever have any direct contact with him in your work?
I don’t recall that I did.
Should we go on then?
Thank you very much for those comments. Then, starting in directly with the continuation of our oral history, we covered the reason for your move to Lick; what was happening with the general administration in California. So let’s start at that point, 1958. What were conditions like at Lick for research and development when you arrived?
Well, the 120-inch telescope was supposed to be essentially completed. W. Baustian, who had been the chief engineer, had accepted a job at Kitt Peak. It was an opportunity for him, and he figured his Lick job mostly done.
But the telescope wasn’t working. The mirror wasn’t done. It was being finished jointly between our optician, Howard Cowan, and Don Hendrix, the chief optician at Mt. Wilson-Palomar, who had finished the 200-inch mirror. Hendrix was at the observatory about six months of the year, in the summer time. He was one of the very great optical figures of his era. He was Texas born, self taught, and, I supposed, one who worked with as much art as science. But he understood the fundamental optical equations all right.
It was a slow process, and it was made doubly so because of the experience with the 20-inch, which couldn’t be finished until it had been tested on the stars, if you remember reading Helen Wright’s book. They weren’t sure that their testing in the laboratory would translate perfectly when the weight was distributed with the mirror looking up, as it had been when looking horizontally.
Therefore, while that horizontal tunnel was built into the laboratory in the basement of the 120-inch for the initial grinding and polishing, it had been planned from the first to do the finishing and the final testing on the telescope And that was the stage it was in when I got there.
This was a slow process, because it took weekends and overtime work — five to seven days — to undertake polishing and to get the mirror moved with all the elaborate precautions that had to be made; change the support system from one which would stand the weight of the polishing tool to one that would float the telescope on its counterbalance.
That was all in the design?
Yes. And finally we had to get it on the telescope and get the temperature conditions just right so the mirror was relaxed. It wasn’t free from temperature strains, you know, even though it was Pyrex, which is now considered a moderately high expansion glass, although it was originally hailed as a low expansion glass.
The next step was to get the test exposure on a few bright stars, working on the reflection from the unaluminized glass mirror. Then this had to be evaluated. This was done both by knife edge test, which Hendrix understood perfectly, and by a Hartmann scheme, which had been used on the 200-inch, which Nick Mayall did. It took about two days of good old motor-driven mechanical calculators computations to get this all worked out. It could be done in two hours on a modern electronic computer.
Meanwhile, the mirror was lowered back to the basement optical shop, and equalized to the laboratory temperature. Then there was the problem of deciding where to rub. So it didn’t go very fast.
People certainly must have been anxious to get it done?
Yes. There was a difference of opinion in the end, as to what stage should be reached before calling the mirror finished. The spot diagram, as it’s now called, is the distribution of the light of a star reflected from the whole mirror after passing through the atmosphere. This is spread out by seeing distortions. Further distortions are put in by the mirror. There was a random error that occurred between one test and the next because each polishing ad a tendency to overshoot or undershoot in various parts of the mirror, and possible because the support mechanism wasn’t all that perfect. So when the net result of all the persistent recurring scatter effects of the undistorted, temperature equalized mirror, gave a scatter diagram that was smaller than that expected in the best seeing you ever hope to see, well, then, it didn’t pay to go on. The decision as to when the time had come was, as I recall, taken about a year after I came. It wasn’t a unanimous one.
Who sided on the different sides? Who wanted to go on and make the mirro better?
Nick Mayall was the perfectionist. And Stan Vasilevskis, who had a good deal to do with the actual calculation of the Hartmann patterns, was the leader of those who, like Hendrix — believed that it was already a better mirror than the 200-inch. They argued that we were just oscillating about a mean that wasn’t going to get any better.
Was it a friendly discussion basically?
Yes. There wasn’t any acrimony. And I guess I had the biggest vote, when the decision was finally taken.
The first use of the telescope was in the late fall of ’59, as I recall. There was a long-scheduled visit by Lallemand and Duchesne, French astronomers, who were going to bring their electrographic camera to try out on the new telescope. Lallemand recently died a few months ago.
What was the state of design of the auxiliary instrumentation?
Well, during this testing period, the indicators that told where the telescope pointed, which were scaled down from those on the 200-inch, were not working. There was a local lack of expertise on that.
This was an electronic problem?
Yes. Well, there was no one on the engineering staff locally who understood it all. They were more mechanically trained people. So there was some consultation with Bruce Rule, who was chief engineer at Mt Wilson and Palomar, and he cam for some long weekend visits, and it was all worked out. I had to learn some of it myself, and later on, an engineering employee, Larry Berg, who was with us for several years as senior engineer — who had training in control design — cleaned it all up. That was one of the first problems: getting to be able to point the telescope where you wanted to, and be able to read dials that told you where it was pointing.
The first things that worked were one section of the Coude spectrograph, the one Lallemand and Duchesne used — originally the shortest of the four focal lengths. I think it was 20-inches focal length. And then the prime focus plate holder was available. This was the special province of Nick Mayall, who was a superb photographer, even in just hand camera work. He knew how to make a picture look like something — to compose it. Some of the historic pictures, the views we sell on slides and so on, were taken in that period.
But the auxiliary instrumentation beyond that ws still all ahead. There were three more cameras planned for the 120-inch.
Prime focus cameras?
Well, the plate holder was essentially all that was needed for the camera used in direct photography, and that was pretty well along in the first year. But there had been a plan for a prime focus spectrograph, because Nick Mayall had grown up with the one on the Crossley, which had been so marvelously successful, one that he’d built. It was a prism instrument.
The Nebular Spectrograph?
Yes, and the velocities in Humason, Mayall, and Sandage’s famous 1956 paper on the red shifts were mostly obtained with that. In later discussion of the spectrographs that I.S. Bowen put together — one version of it is in STARS AND STELLAR SYSTEMS, Volume 2 — he shows that there was a rather fortuitous but very favorable matching of apertures and focal lengths in the Mayall spectrograph for the Crossley which made it so efficient. But this meant that Mayall wanted to go on with the program of getting more red shifts, and it meant a prime focus spectrograph, now with gratings and Schmidt optics. The Sold Schmidt was the fastest camera. And while this had been long germinating, it fell to my lot to see it though, both in the final optical design, and getting it made in the optical shop. It was a very difficult type of Schmidt optics that our optician Howard Cowan had never done before. So we had to devise test jigs that would permit him [to] read the shape from the traditional Foucault cut-off test.
I see. That’s a bit difficult with the solid Schmidt.
Well, we worked it backwards. We put an artificial star at the focus. Rays traced back through the camera should give parallel light. And then we looked at the emerging beam through a telescope which was focused to receive parallel light.
I see, so you tested it through glass, and not on the back, on the convex back?
We put our artificial star where it should be.
Where the focus would be?
Yes, in contact with the top of the sold Schmidt button. The sold Schmidt is half sold. There’s air between the corrector plate and the focal plane and then solid glass beyond that. And on the top of this solid second half, there’s a little elevated button where the plate is in contact with the solid optics. The plate is let down by a kind of automaton. The artificial star was a pinhole a few microns in diameter in an evaporated aluminum coating on a thin piece of glass. It was illuminated from behind. It had to be wide angle illumination achievable only with a microscope lens.
Then, if the optics are perfect, the rays ought to go through the camera backwards and come out as parallel light. A broad band green filter was used, so as not to stain the non-achromatic properties of the corrector plate. And then, if one looks at it with just an ordinary refracting telescope, five inches aperture or something like that, one should see a Foucault cut-off at the eye end of that telescope. If it isn’t perfect, one can read it by the traditional translation of the lights and shadows into the existence of hills and valleys — something the all amateur astronomers who set up a knife edge test have learned to do when they’re making their own telescope.
Who devised the inverse Foucault test?
I guess the idea was put in my head in a conversation with Jesse Greenstein. He suggested it as a way of calculating the Schmidt corrector, for which the simple Schmidt theory, in such fast focal ratios, is not adequate. One just can do it empirically. That's the way I did it, and since we calculated it that way, it seemed logical to me to test it the same way, by running the light backwards.
Now, with the completion of that test, when was the nebular spectrograph finished?
Oh, I suppose in '60 or '61. I could look it up in the annual reports. I don't remember.
Then that was basically Nick Mayall's instrument?
By this time, I think the siren call of Kitt Peak had already been heard and he left. I think he did not get to use it, or at least not much.
Everything there that he wanted was being built?
Yes. And the people who used it most were George Herbig and especially Merle Walker. Everybody used it who wanted to look at planetary nebulae for instance. Margaret Burbidge used it quite a bit in her continuing campaign for getting rotation curves of galaxies. She'd begun the program at McDonald when the Burbidges were at Yerkes for a while.
They must have still been at McDonald, at least before '62. Were they visitors?
Somewhere along here, they accepted their appointments at UC San Diego at La Jolla, and then Margaret became a regular visitor to Mt. Hamilton.
Was there any resentment to her coming up?
Well, this is something I think we might save for more generalized discussion. The initial answer is, no, there wasn't.
But I would like to talk about that type of thing, women in astronomy, maybe when we get to your AAS years.
Oh, I thought you were referring to rivalry between the various parts of the University of California.
I see what you mean.
There was some of that. And maybe I ought to say a little bit about it, before we leave the subject.
She went on to use the spectrograph for quite a number of related investigations of red shifts and quasars. I wouldn’t be able to tell you all the people that used it.
Through the sixties you brought in a number of people — Joe Wampler and others who were very strongly inclined to do instrumental work, develop auxiliary instruments. Was this a direction that you felt had to be taken?
Well, the predeliction that I had, when I came, was that innovation in instrumentation was absolutely vital. The practical realization of it was retarded by the monumental job of getting all the auxiliary instruments for the l20-inch finished, and I think this took four or five years. I think I said when we spoke a year ago that, while I was not privy to any discussions as to why I was asked to come to Lick Observatory as director, I strongly suspect, confirmed by indirect remarks, that the long period between the conception of the telescope, which came during the war years, and the completion, had worried the staff.
Some of it was the result of trying to do it on a rather do-it-yourself Spartan financial scale, where one struggled along and tried to take the cheap rather than the Herculean, cut-the-Gordian-knot solution to the problem. And partly because of this there was a feeling that there wasn't, for that reason, a guiding spirit who had instrumental expertise, or just a feeling for instrumental needs and capabilities. Possibly I was viewed as someone who could provide that extra push and spark, and get it all running.
And so, for the first five years, I worked very, very hard and very personally. I suffered and struggled to master each one of the mechanical, electrical and optical hurdles that had to be surmounted in getting all this done.
At that time the Sproul administration had just finished as you came and the Kerr administration had started. How long was it before you started feeling the effects of this, as far as the amount of money you had available to continue the instrumentation was concerned?
Before Shane left the directorship he had made advance provision for finishing the auxiliaries, and there were various names for this. I think in getting the last appropriation, which was 250 or 300 thousand dollars in all, he had had to promise that: "Yes, this would finish the telescope." There were people in the legislature that felt: "We've been nickeled and dimed to death on this telescope. It was first set forth as something that could be, built for less than a million dollars, and it's up to about 2½ now. This is it."
These were not entirely cost overruns. I think I explained before, that the two moving figures who talked to Sproul and put forth the idea of a modern large telescope for the Lick Observatory were Nick Mayall and Gerry Kron. I don't know their exact words, but in essence they said that as a result of their war work, they saw how pinched and limited the astronomers' opportunities at Lick Observatory had been. These had been used very efficiently. But nevertheless, a big new world had been opened up. What the scientists had shown during the war could be done, given money and the latest techniques opened a lot of people's eyes, I think.
But at this time, there was a certain amount of thinking: "Let's keep it (the l20-inch) simple and fundamental." And the two interests of Mayall and Kron were direct photography and the spectroscopic red shifts for Mayall and the photoelectric photometer for Kron, for which a prime focus telescope was all that was needed. And that was the original project.
But by 1954 or thereabouts, George Herbig, a Berkeley PhD, who had come onto the staff in '48 or '49, directly after his postdoc at Yerkes made the point (this was long before I was around but I saw some of the memoranda) that this was an incomplete telescope; that the things that a prime focus telescope could do best could only be done when there isn't any moonlight, and the moon shines half the time. Well, it shines more than that, but the bright part of the month is about half of the time. And therefore, just to use the telescope well, not to mention being able to do all the very powerful things that a high dispersion spectrograph can do at the Goude focus, was only providing half of what was needed.
So extra money was needed to put on the Goude instrumentation. This meant at least two new secondary mirrors, a convex and a flat. In the end, we went to the five mirror, three-flat scheme to get to the Pole — a primary and four secondaries.
This was not planned in the original telescope?
That's right. That was one of the reasons why the cost went up, and also the backlog of instrumental completion that was before me when I came. Herbig always attended to the Goude design and instrumentation personally. He wanted it that way. It was his creation, and as everyone knows, he made it work superbly.
Did he have the support of Mayall and Kron?
Oh yes, as far as I know.
There couldn't have been any competition, one for bright sky, one for dark?
No, I think all finally agreed that we wanted a telescope that could be used for everything. The idea was that these were things that Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories, now called Hale Observatories of course, had had for years, and to be able to do all of the things that one wanted to do, with the extra light that one got with the large telescope, why, one was just handicapped if the standard tools weren't there.
And there was a Goude spectrograph at McDonald, of course, very early, built I think under Struve's urging. And the power of that was also well known. How much Struve had impressed Herbig, during these postdoc years at Yerkes, in this direction, I don't know. You'd have to ask George about that.
So, getting back to your question, how much of the emphasis in those first five years could be put into new kinds of instrumentation, which I felt and always did feel was an important part of the program of the observatory, necessarily had to be limited, because all the money and all the resources that we had in our rather small engineering and optical staff was just pre-committed to finishing the basics.
There was one flurry, at my instigation, at interferometric methods, with Nick Woolf, now at Arizona, who was then a visiting postdoc from Manchester in England.
That was in the middle sixties, wasn't it, the interferometric work?
Yes. He was a man with very broad interests. His mind ran on to the next thing too quickly and the instrumental part didn't get complete attention. He was trying to use a single pressure-scanned Fabry-Perot unit for the high resolution part, with the Coude spectrograph as the pre-disperser, to sort out the side orders. And getting all this to track and move together didn't work. The PEPSIOS scheme, where there are three pressure-scanned Fabry Perot units in a single chamber, proved to be a better way to do it. It had been worked out at Wisconsin under J.E. Mack — Julian Ellis Mack — who was actually my thesis supervisor when I was doing physics. One of his students, Lew Hobbs, who is now director of Yerkes, brought the instrument to Mt. Hamilton. He was there as a post-doc in the middle sixties, I think, and got some good results. And he has gone on to do a good deal more with it. It was a very successful, extremely high resolution instrument.
But our own earlier efforts in that direction, because we were trying to simplify the thing, and maybe because we didn't have a long term committed person, didn't get very far.
The other thing that we did do involved Joe Wampler. He came as a post-doc. As a part of a research project that he had to get done in two years, he built the first sequential scanner for Lick Observatory, and his will, skill and drive, and knowledge of early computerized programming techniques for such things were what brought it off. That scanner is still used by students, mostly at the telescope to which it was transferred.
It started on the 120, then it went to the Crossley?
Yes. It was, of course, an overlapping thing; for a time it was moved back and forth. I've used this type of scanner myself, at Lick and also Tololo and Kitt Peak, where it was copied.
George Preston had an earlier design for a scanner that was on the Crossley, I recall. Was that built after you were there? It was fixed.
Yes. I don't recall all the details of it, I had better say straight off. There were old spectrographs going back to W.H. Wright's days, when he did his classic work on the planetary nebulae, and Preston saw a way to make a rather simple modification of one of these, which would give still a good high efficiency sequential scan into a photoelectric cell. But the Wampler instrument was the universal instrument. By changing the type of photo-cell to get deeper in the red, it could cover the whole range, and do it in reproducible and calibratable fashion. And, indeed, Don Hayes, a graduate student who had originally been at UCLA (he got his PhD at UCLA), used it to establish what later became the accepted absolute calibration of Vega and half a dozen other stars. This grew out of a project that Kron fostered.
Could we turn now to a slightly different topic. When you came of course the 120-inch was being built by then, after it was finished, how did the atmosphere at the observatory change, let's say, for using the 120-inch for astronomy on the mountain. Were there any policies that you felt had to be changed regarding access to instruments?
Well, this gets up to the problems that I alluded to earlier. Problems that led to the transfer of the headquarters to Santa Cruz, as they developed in time.
The notion that Mt. Hamilton was a campus of the University of California was something of a distortion. Robert Gordon Sproul instituted the term and loved it. All this was changed by President Kerr. Logic was certainly on his side. What an observatory does is certainly not the grand spread of study of a large number of subjects that one ordinarily associates with the term "campus."
The university was growing very rapidly in these times; it was a period of, as we look back on it, of flowering and expanding conceptions of what could be done. As part of his general plan for organizing the administration of the university Kerr decided to have the various organized research units (as they are called in the University of California), some of which had reported to the president, all report to a chancellor. Consequently we were put under the Berkeley campus.
You were put under the Berkeley campus?
Yes. President Kerr was trying to organize the university so that the president could really have a hierarchical reporting mechanism, and not have too many separate things coming directly to his attention. Lick Observatory had been reporting directly to the president, under Sproul. And Kerr didn't want to do that. He didn't want to continue to call it a campus. And we couldn't object to that. It wasn't a campus.
So that was the time, I suppose it was about 1960, maybe late '59, that Lick Observatory became a part of the Berkeley campus. The Berkeley campus was then the only one in the university system that offered a graduate program in astronomy, and it was a large one.
Did you report then directly to the chancellor at Berkeley or to the department of astronomy at Berkeley?
To the chancellor at Berkeley. There were two astronomical organizations reporting to the Berkeley chancellor as a result.
Students came up during the summer from Berkeley and occasionally from Los Angeles. About this time Los Angeles started to institute a graduate program. There were eight or ten students on the mountain each summer working with staff members. Some quite good students got their first introduction to astronomy during that period.
I can't remember exactly when the development at San Diego started, but it was during those years too. It wasn't definite that there was going to be a graduate department there. It was always a part of physics. But there were some advanced workers.
It was during this period that relations with students were I think fairly happy, from the point of view of the students and the point of view of the Lick staff, and as far as I know, from the Berkeley faculty. I cannot give you the exact year when Struve resigned and went to Greenbank, but it was one of the early years of the sixties. He had done a great deal to make the Berkeley department very successful. I think Louis Henyey was one of the earlier chairmen, after he left.
The problems that began to arise were not in the arrangement with students who came up to the mountain, but in the expansion of the astronomy departments in the university, and even in Berkeley itself, where staff members had access to Mt. Hamilton and the 120-inch telescope as one of the carrots. And promises were made — what the incoming staff members felt were promises — about how much they could use the 120 inch telescope.
The various chairmen made these promises?
Yes, with the consent of their chancellors.
This was true in Los Angeles, too. And after two or three rude shocks about how much they really did get to use the 120-inch telescope, representations were made. I was spurred to do something about it by members of the staff, particularly George Herbig. So I made representations to the chancellors that this was just an untenable situation from the point of view of Lick Observatory, to have all kinds of people promising that a certain total number of nights in the year would be given to all and sundry, without anybody asking the people on Mt. Hamilton "how about this?"
Did this pressure come from La Jolla, UCLA and Berkeley?
Who were they? I guess you could pick them out in terms of the observers?
L.H. Aller had come to UCLA.
Aller was one of them. C.R. O'Dell was one at Berkeley; He is now in charge of the Space Telescope for NASA. There hadn't been any particular rivalry before, because there wasn't anything on Mt. Hamilton that would help an aspiring observational astrophysicist at one of these places, especially Berkeley.
Before the 120-inch.
Yes. And it was inconvenient to come up to the mountain. They sent their students. They didn't come themselves very much. If I can perhaps put words in their mouths that represent what I think was the feeling: they came to view the mountain dwellers as people who were too dedicated to these ancient instruments, and perhaps weren't sufficiently interested in the newer developments in theoretical astrophysics.
This is similar to a rivalry that you may remember, that I referred to before, as something that took place between the East and the West, ever since the Mt. Wilson Observatory began to work and produce so successfully.
Right, you did talk about that.
Yes. It happened on a smaller scale, I think, inside the University of California.
But when the telescope began to work, and it was a valuable resource, some feuds developed inside the University of California as to whose telescope really it was. And of course those on Mt. Hamilton who had sweated and worked terribly hard and very long hours over many years to get it into operation very naturally thought that it was theirs. At least they should have the control as to how it was used.
What kind of pressures were put upon you to begin modifying the use policies?
As applications came in, the decision as to how the telescope would be assigned was kept on Mt. Hamilton. And I guess the director made the final decision.
So you did have the final decision.
Yes. But we tried, internally at least, to make the decision on the basis of total number of requests and the merit of the requests. And up to about this time, 1964, most of the requests were met, or came close to being met, by modern standards. At places like Kitt Peak they're not anywhere near met. And people on Mt. Hamilton, who had a kind of a honeymoon in the first years, were still getting regular access to the telescope. They were still able to carry out sustained programs, long term programs, and they could more or less count on that. They had a minimum of 30 nights a year, occasionally going up to over 40, on the big telescope, and that's pretty good.
But the resentment by some of these people who had been promised, they thought, a lot more, was a warning. We felt more that the control ought to stay with Lick Observatory. There were proposals to appoint an all-campus assignment committee, which finally did happen, before things came to a climax. And they did come to a climax.
One of the signs along the way, reflecting this dissension or rivalry, came when President Kerr appointed a science advisor. His name was Robert Brode, one of the Brode triplet brothers. Robert had been a cosmic ray physicist at Berkeley and a respected one. Kerr asked him to look into the problem. As a result of it, a very devastating recommendation got as far as the president's office.
What was that?
It was devastating from the point of view of the observatory. His recommendation was that the non-tenured members of the faculty, which included three bright young people — their names were George Preston, Merle Walker and Tom Kinman — should be let go to make room on the telescopes for more observers from the campuses. The recommendation implied that the university had no obligation to keep the non-tenured persons and that they could be dismissed without any comparative review of their attainments and promise relative to competing astronomers in other parts of the university. I'm saying things that I'd not like to have publicized immediately, though I don't mind their being in the record.
This was of course strenuously resisted, and leads to a basic difference of concept, which still persists, in competition between established observatories and national centers. An observatory works because the people who live with the instruments. They have built many of them themselves because they wanted to achieve certain things, and they know exactly why the equipment works and how to fix it if it doesn't. This was before the days of a high level technical maintenance staff, people who are paid faculty scale salaries to monitor these things.
You mean technicians?
Well, they're professionals. They're more than technicians.
That's the situation as it stands now?
Yes. In those days, we couldn't have gotten the money, nor would I think the tone of the place would have approved it, to pay that high salary for somebody who is just interested in getting the wheels turning and keeping them turning. This knack was then something that a certain fraction of the astronomers simply had to have because they were interested in all the steps of the process; bringing the information out of the incoming light beam, and then had mastered how to do it.
We said we didn't see at that time how you could have a first class observatory with the role of the mountain dwellers being merely that of telescope jockeys. We had to maintain a staff of astronomers who were primarily interested in the ends, but also could handle the means.
Well, that recommendation died. And those astronomers stayed and went on to attain promotion. The recommendation had been Brode's idea. His ideas may have come from consideration of fiscal efficiency, or of how a university should be a blend of teaching and researching.
One of the things, of course, that led to this rivalry goes back to W.W. Campbell's days. Campbell's astronomers had the title astronomer, not professor, yet were members of the senate, whereas horticultural experts and pomologists and what not from the Ag campuses were not. And Lick astronomers automatically had 11 month appointments, whereas other faculty members had to scrounge for summer appointments. Also Lick staff didn't have to teach. This was all thrown up to us, and we more or less dared the Berkeley faculty to ask us to teach. George Preston did teach one course very successfully.
George Preston went down to Berkeley?
For a semester. He commuted.
There was at this time a movement within the university, I think fostered by President Kerr. It was to institute gradually the requirement that every faculty level member of an organized research institute had to hold a joint appointment in a teaching department.
When was this?
In the early or middle sixties. And it affected places like the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; also the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UCLA, with a separate group at UCSD. While no one who had accepted appointment without teaching commitments was I think forced to change the terms of his employment, no new appointments could be made that didn't follow this rule.
This was, I think, part of Kerr's basic philosophy, with which one cannot find fault. He believed that the insulation of even the most brilliant research workers from the required and periodic confrontation with young minds in the classroom, in a teaching role of one kind or another, was bad for both the researchers and bad for the general concept of the teaching role that a university should fill.
And we knew this. We felt that it would get to us eventually. It was certainly mentioned to us. President Kerr asked the Vice President of the University, Harry Wellman, an agricultural economist, to be the overseer of Lick Observatory, in a context where we were dealing almost entirely with him rather than with Mr. Kerr.
So you went through Wellman?
Yes. And these relations were, in general, quite happy ones, not unfriendly.
Do you feel, in the new policies Kerr was instituting, that he had input from let's say the astronomy department at Berkeley, or UCLA?
I wouldn't want to say that I know that. But I will say that he was reflecting some of these concerns. It seems quite likely that there was some input. Some of us wanted to blame a particular long term "feuder" in this or that department, as a person who was probably feeding information to the president's office.
Did it change he relationship with the observers from other campuses who came up for observing runs? Were interpersonal feelings a bit strained? Did you talk it out when they came up to visit for their observing runs?
Well, there were many that were friendly, and some that were not. And I think it came to a climax when there was an all university astronomy meeting, and Geoffrey Burbidge blurted out a remark. Of course, this feeling that the traditional observatory, and particularly that the mountain observatory people are somewhat insular and provincial, is an old one. There's undoubtedly at least a shred of truth in it.
I know William Huggins used to accuse that of Lick astronomers, believe it or not. He was just out and out jealous, though.
There were people around Cal Tech that were highly critical of the role that the Carnegie Institution kept over the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories.
The Cal-Tech Hale Observatory relationship is similar to what you're describing now?
Yes. And particularly, there were physicists around Pasadena that felt: "Goodness, they are a bunch of mossbacks. And if you only let the physicists in to take charge, you could really do something with all these telescopes."
Could you tell me?
William Fowler was one of them.
Yes. I see. Now, what was the nature of Burbidge's statement?
Well, I'll quote it. It was at a breakfast in a motel in LaJolla. We had an annual all-university astronomy meeting, which was partly business, and partly an exchange of reports and papers on current research in progress. Over the years it has been a very salutary thing. It's still continued.
Now, I think it's no secret that Geoff Burbidge would be quite sympathetic to these ideas, not being a burden-bearing observational astronomer, but more a sideline critic. It will be very interesting to see how, now that great responsibility is going to fall on him, how the other end of the stick will be handled.
But he said to Tom Kinman — they're both British-born — "Tom, we've got you on the run. You haven't got a chance. We will bury you." And this was shortly after Khrushchev made that remark. This was terribly upsetting to the Lick staff.
Kinman must have told other people about it then?
Yes. And maybe other people heard it.
He said that in all seriousness?
Well, it was half joking.
He's well known for this strong kind of statement. But you would believe that there's some truth in what he says.
What he implied was that the anti-Lick forces on the other campuses felt that their combined power was enough to force (the issue). This remark plus the organized research unit policy about sharing teaching, made us wonder whether living on the mountain was something we could keep on doing.
Is it true that your housing was also paid for?
Yes, it was.
That probably was another bone of contention, for the rest of them.
It may have added to it.
Now, Burbidge was saying this on behalf of his own projects with his wife, I would imagine?
No, I think it was on behalf of a kind of rough consortium of people from the campuses, who felt that they were somehow more au courant with modern developments; some of them felt they were nobler because they had students and taught.
Well, what about the other campuses? Could you say that Burbidge was one of the most vocal people, that other people were vocal also, say from Berkeley or UCLA?
No, I wouldn't want to identify anyone person.
This remark was heard by several persons in earshot so it's verifiable. And I'll let it stand.
OK. How did the nature of the meeting down in La Jolla Was it an acrimonious meeting?
No. As far as the scientific part was concerned, it was normal. This was just the table conversation.
I see. So there was no formal part of the meeting where the future of Lick came up, as a part of the agenda?
Was there a business meeting?
Oh yes, but it was just mostly about what students there were, how many were being received, what courses were going to be taught, what faculty appointments were being considered or made.
At this point, though, it must have seemed pretty evident that something had changed and you had to make a compromise.
In what direction?
Well, the one that was taken, which seemed to be the only viable one.
What were some of the other options?
Well, it was actually George Preston that put the package together.
Yes. It was something that had been talked about loosely. I had thought it would be a good idea, but I didn’t think the staff would go for it.
That's interesting, because Preston left. What happened?
Well, I can't go into the reasons for that. There's a certain place where I'm going to have to quit, and I'll tell you where it is.
Well, unless we taught and had students, we were always under an accusation of having some kind of elite status that wasn't justified by any discernible differences in scientific (output).
We thought that we had the most attractive appointments to offer. Kinman could have gone to either Berkeley or Mt. Hamilton. He chose Mt. Hamilton. And by and large we had a very good staff, and one that was producing, although if you look back in history you can't say that anyone great breakthrough came as a result of what happened on Mt. Hamilton in those years. But it certainly contributed to the whole tapestry in quite illuminating ways.
I'd heard rumors at the time, in the sixties when I was around here, that there was a choice of either going completely to one campus, or dispersing the staff to the various campuses. Was that a viable alternative?
Well, the Lick staff didn't think so. No, I think as a result of this sniping from the other parts of the university, there was naturally an intensified feeling of identity amongst the Lick staff; that we had something together that just for astronomy's sake, we could say, ought to be preserved.
One choice would have been to go to Berkeley. This didn't seem to be very unreasonable. It was the place where there was a long tradition of supporting excellence, unlimited amount of money more or less for whatever seemed good to do. There was also a certain feeling of jealousy from other campuses in the system, as to the first cut that Berkeley got when the total university budget was made. I'm sure you remember that.
But two astronomy groups in Berkeley, both of whom had to teach, didn't seem to be a working relationship that would be happy from either side.
In a way it would have been three, because there's two at Berkeley now, if you think in terms of radio astronomy too. That would have been quite a large administrative nightmare.
Yes, that's right. They've had some of that at Arizona. I never followed, however, how it worked out. I understand they're trying to get it together now.
You mean the University of Arizona?
Yes, they have a number of large research interests.
So, going to a new campus, which happened to be the nearest one to Mt. Hamilton, where we could establish our own teaching department, have our own students, and do the things from sea level that were getting more and more difficult because of their increasing technical complexity, seemed like an attractive possibility. It was proposed to the university and they took it right away as I guess a happy resolution to the problem. Wellman said that the general reaction that was expressed was that it would be good for Lick Observatory and good for the Santa Cruz campus.
The Santa Cruz campus though was planned as an undergraduate humanistic type of a campus.
Was there any reaction to the strange bedfellows that Lick and the rest of the campus would have made?
Well, that led to some more troubles, yes. Yes.
From what direction?
The first chancellor of the campus, Dean McHenry — and that's his name, not his title — had been a classmate with Clark Kerr when they were both graduate students in economics or political science at Stanford. McHenry had been a political scientist and quite a successful teacher at UCLA. Kerr drew him into the statewide administration, and the dream was of establishing this kind of a campus was between them.
I guess this is neither the time nor the place to review how it has all worked out some ten or twelve years after it all started being actually a place where students were.
You say this is not the time nor place?
Yes. But there certainly had to be adjustments along the way. Let it go at that. It had been the dream of McHenry's life to establish this kind of a campus as a part of the state university. And Clark Kerr used the word "multiversity," and believed that there should be diversity between the campuses and specialization; that they shouldn't all try to be junior copies of Berkeley. And that has often been echoed here, that we don't want to do that, that we'd just not try to be another Berkeley and we never can.
But it meant that the chancellor under whom we came to this campus was one that was trying to realize the dream of his life. It was just corning into being. He was not a scientist, and some of the difficulties that were presented were budgetary because Ronald Reagan had become governor and was campaigning against the university. Reagan wanted to institute economies in the organized research units among the pretty severe clips in the first two budget years. Fortunately the Regents saw the value of trying to make these deficits up from their own funds.
Oh, they did do that?
Yes, from their own funds. They did repair most or some of the damage. But it was a cloudy time, a struggle.
'66 through '68.
Yes, that's right. The establishing of a department, and getting some graduate students that were reasonably good, went along more or less as we had hoped the first time we tried. George Preston was the first chairman of what we called the Board of Studies here.
Preston did stay on for a while?
Yes. But the problems that we got into were the result of the kind of campus we had moved to, which didn't have this long tradition of having a large fraction of, graduate students. It has been about a third at Berkeley, hasn't it? And expensive faculty research was not anticipated at Santa Cruz. Organized research institutes, which take about a half of a faculty's salary out of the teaching stream, were just not traditions here, nor were they things that, in the struggle to try to get the place set up, McHenry felt that were important to set aside funds and priorities for.
Our relations were not happy with the vice chancellor that he assigned to our administration. His name was Francis Clauser. He later became engineering dean at Cal Tech. He came here to establish an engineering school; during these lean years the university decided that they didn't need an engineering school on every campus, so it was shot out from under him. But our relations were not too good.
Clauser was vice chancellor for the sciences and mathematics.
And your relations weren't too good?
Yes. I don't want to particularize. But anyhow, there was this mounting pressure, and the feeling that things weren't going well, that led to Preston's resignation.
It was his contact with Clauser?
Yes. And that's the place I think I'll finish describing the problems that arose. They were finally worked out, by others than me, and you can get the story about that, if you want to ask, but I'll stop my part of it right there.
You mean I should ask somebody else?
I mean that how they were worked out, by other persons, you have to ask those other persons to describe.
Right. During this time, this whole period of transition, I know that the observatory began getting more and more interested in obtaining a dark sky site. At least, you started a site survey in Australia and there was a site survey around California for dark sky Merle Walker's famous study. What were your various options for obtaining dark sky sites? Who on the faculty were most concerned, or was it a general concern?
Well, one has to back up a little bit. It involves the ten year survey.
Would it be better to talk about that first?
I don't know what questions you want to ask. Maybe we could back up and start on that, and then to on to the question of what Lick Observatory might do in other places than Mt. Hamilton.
Yes. I'm just wondering now if any part of those dark sky site searches, in California, had anything to do with diversifying Lick and making another mountain observatory available to the other campuses?
Well, yes, they do. How would you like to start on the ten year survey?
I was going to start by simply asking you how the committee was chosen. Is it correct to call this the Whitford Report?
Well, it sometimes is referred to that way.
The next time around, it came to be called the Greenstein Committee or Greenstein Report. So I don’t object, but I don’t think it’s exactly correct either.
Well, you were on the committee as chairman. This is a National Academy of Sciences Committee. Bracewell and Drake and Haddock and Liller were all on it.
Yes. I don't know exactly how it all started. George Kistiakowsky was, I think, the chairman of the Committee on Science and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences. It was a fairly new enterprise for the Academy. Kistiakowsky had been science advisor under President Eisenhower and it was a time when the great acceleration and increased support of science that came following Sputnik was in full flower. It seemed as if we ought to plan as a nation to be excellent in a lot of things that would assure the nation that it had the expertise to compete militarily or any other way with any other nation or group of nations on the earth.
I was urged to take the job by Leo Goldberg, and after wrestling with it a bit, I said I would.
That's interesting, that Goldberg asked you to do it rather than doing it himself. He seems to be the sort of person that takes on a lot of jobs like this.
Well, there's another side to him. He likes to get things organized for other people to do, and then not carry the administrative burden himself. He had a good deal to do with the formation of AURA. In fact, he invented the acronym himself personally. But when it came down to actually operating the organization, he bowed out and didn't have much to do with it, until he was asked to be director.
That's right. Well, these commission members then were named by some committee of the National Academy of Science?
Well, I had a good deal to do with lining them up myself. I was given a rough idea of how many meetings we could have and what the scope of the inquiry should be, and we were allowed to shape it pretty much within those guidelines themselves. One thing Kistiakowsky specifically said was that he did not think that it would be fruitful for us to plan a program for astronomy that included the NASA effort above the atmosphere. And that is why it was specifically called the Ground Based Program.
You stated that very clearly in the introduction to the report, but then, that brings up my next question. We haven't really finished about how these people were named. Let me just ask you this now. Didn't you feel though that being able to predict the future needs of ground-based astronomy was interdependent somewhat with the advances that would be made in space? One supporting the other?
Well, I'm sure we did. But the point was, it was the time of post-Sputnik competition, and the ambition to put a man on the moon before 1970 had already been announced, I think.
Oh, that form of the space program was pretty independent, yes. The manned space program.
And this gave NASA political and financial clout that far exceeded anything else. So the question was: which was the tail and which was the dog? I think that was what was behind it.
Going back to the original question then, did you look for some sort of a balance between the various branches of astronomy? Or were you looking for personalities?
I think we were looking for people who had been using large instruments or seeing their possibilities. We were looking for people who were concerned about the general development of astronomy in the country. Bruce Rule was on the committee because he had a good deal of expertise on how much it cost and what was involved engineering-wise to build optical telescopes. I don't exactly remember what went on when the committee was being chosen. I think they were asked to serve by me. I talked with people in the Academy, and with people who were already consenting to serve on the committee, about how to round it out.
Were there any people that you approached who didn't want to be on the committee? Or were people recommended to you that you didn't want to ask?
I don't think anything comes to mind right now.
There's no name here that would lead me to ask why they're on the committee. It's an interesting mix of radio astronomy, optical astronomy, that sort of thing.
Yes. I think the kind of rivalry or difference in point of view that I've already alluded to, was already quite well formed in the field of radio astronomy, and there were some bitter feuds. I think this was one of the biggest problems that we had to surmount, in getting our final recommendations agreed upon by members of the committee and of the astronomical community. This feud had to do with Greenbank versus the university-related radio astronomy efforts, most prominently Cal Tech.
Right. Dave Heeschen, for instance, wasn’t on this committee. He would represent Greenbank.
Well, as a matter of fact, Frank Drake came pretty close to it. He had been at Greenbank, I think probably still was, and only later went to Cornell and Arecibo.
Also there was some seething coming up from the astronomical community, and there didn't seem to be any formulation of a recommended program that would be acceptable to all the radio astronomers on the committee. There finally was a special meeting, an all day meeting in Washington, where everybody could let out his pent-up feelings.
When was this meeting? Before the publication of the Report? '63, '64?
Yes. I can't remember the exact date. Something like '64, probably, some kind of a live and let live point of view, between the national center versus university-related centers, especially Cal Tech, was arrived at on that day.
So there was a consensus. That's good. What about the optical astronomers? There would be that kind of rivalry too, to some extent.
Yes. Well, this leads up to the preliminary of the question that led us to review these matters, before we came back to the other site enterprises, or at least possibilities, that Lick Observatory later considered.
You had recommended in the Whitford Report that at least three large telescopes be built, one being the Kitt Peak instrument that was already under construction. But two others were undetermined as yet, and at least one of those three had to be in the Southern Hemisphere. Does that lead into the Lick interests?
So we can go in that direction now?
Well, it was left more or less open. You can read the recommendations of the committee in the report on that section "Under Whose Auspices?" that there didn't seem to be any compulsion that it be all single-institution maintained observatories, or national centers, and that it would probably be in the best interests of the country to have some rivalry and competition and diversity.
"Friendly Rivalry," as you put it.
Yes. And also a phrase that I put in that probably had some of my own venom in it, "there ought not to be any automatic unreviewed preemption."
And this was a reflection of a certain bitterness that grew up amongst the older observatories: that by putting on the ecumenical cloak, as we called it — the free access for astronomers from everywhere to some central place which was somehow maintained by people who did or didn't do astronomy — one could get rid of the elitism that was felt to be the institutional disease of the old established observatories. That, essentially, was the rivalry. It hasn't stopped it though.
But making more of these large telescopes available certainly would ease the situation.
So how were these interests then intertwined? The site surveys that Lick had?
All right. Well, if this is sufficient review of how the ten year program got formulated, maybe we can come back to it later.
I have more questions about that.
Let's go back to how this prepared the way for what did get proposed but didn't happen at Lick Observatory.
That's fine, because both of my other questions on the 10 year program deal with manpower predictions.
I wish I could remember the dates a little better, but I'm pretty sure it was after the Report was all written and maybe even in print. There had been a proposal put before the Ford Foundation by Mt. Wilson and Palomar, for Ford to finance another 200-inch telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, to be known as CARSO. The Carnegie Southern Observatory. It was going to cost about 25 million, I think. The Carnegie Institution trustees and the Ford trustees were, I think, on fairly friendly terms at the time, but then the head of the Ford Foundation retired, and McGeorge Bundy took his place. And I don't know where he got the reflection of this anti-elitism groundswell across the country. I know one person that was asked. Rupert Wildt. The German-born head of the Yale effort who recently died. He was one of those that was asked and expressed doubt. The question that was asked, in fact, I was also asked by Bundy himself: "Was it not a cause for concern that the two largest and most powerful telescopes in the world would be controlled by a self-contained group of astronomers?"
What did you say?
I said I was not worried. That the Mt. Wilson-Palomar group had shown that they could spread the use of their telescopes around amongst qualified users, and that it was part of the proposal, in fact, to do more of it in the Southern Hemisphere as well as in the North. But anyhow, as a result of the doubts, the plan was cancelled.
Do you think Bundy was looking for an excuse to cancel it? Or was he sincere?
Well, I do not know what the financial fortunes of the Ford Foundation had to do with it. It's possible that they did have a problem. It's also possible that the private foundations felt they had done more than their share for the physical and mathematical sciences in the country. The Rockefellers had built the 200-inch telescope, and now that federal money was coming along the private foundations ought to fill the chinks where the support was not coming from these newly available sources — places where their funds might make a real difference. This is a supportable justification.
With the demise of that project, what was done?
Well, there was then a proposal for a southern hemisphere observatory to become, as it finally did, a part of AURA, and the appropriations for starting the planning were actually in the AURA budget. But in one of the economy waves that came along about that time, they got cut out. The transfer of the effort from private auspices to AURA was popularly known around a certain part of Pasadena as the "CARSO steal."
So it looked as if there wasn't going to be any U.S. telescope in the Southern hemisphere. This left a vacuum, in which it was proposed that we do something. I don't know whose idea it was, it wasn't exactly mine. I think several astronomers in the university got together, and I can't just remember.
Aller had always been talking about the Southern hemisphere.
Could he have been one of them?
He might have been. Since there was nothing on the boards telescope in the Southern hemisphere, maybe Lick Observatory the gap.He might have been. Since there was nothing on the boards telescope in the Southern hemisphere, maybe Lick Observatory the gap.
Well, what sparked it? We talked about it, the 200-inch telescope, and where would the money come from and so on. And the site survey was organized about this time in the Southern Hemisphere. President Kerr found the money to fund it. We decided after looking around, just to concentrate on a mountain in South Australia called Mt. McKinlay, which was not far from a site that the Australians themselves had investigated. It's about 300 miles north of Adelaide, in the Flinders Range at an altitude of about 3400 feet, latitude 30 South. It seemed that the percentage of clear weather there would be higher than anything in the more densely populated areas. It's out in a pretty wild place, about half way between Adelaide and Alice Springs.
Yes, right. You preferred that to Chile?
Well, there was worry about Chile. There already was a site survey in Chile sponsored by AURA, so that it was felt that there were arguments that it should be an alternate site. But, during the period when there was only rather tenuous ideas as to where any large financing would come from, there was also an approach from the Australians, brought by Taffy Bowen (that's his nickname) whom I had known during the war as one of the early British radar experts. He later moved to Australia and became quite a power in what's known as CSIRO, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
This is after Bok had left?
Yes. Bowen went in for radio astronomy, and had a very large role to play in the building of the Parkes installation, which has a large paraboloid two hundred miles northwest of Sydney. When the Australian large telescope project got started — it was something Bok had worked on hard — there had been a compact with Britain to go in together, which in the end they did. But the project was dragging, and there was some feeling that the financial strain in Britain had put it pretty low on their priority list, and well, that maybe the British astronomers were interested in something else than front line big telescope optical astronomy. Anyway, during this time and we had misunderstood, I think, the exact auspices of it — Bowen came to the US, and after looking around for a possible U.S. partner, saw Lick's interest. So he said there was a possibility that we could have a joint project. And that's what sparked it. It was at the time when NASA was giving away some telescopes on the justification that they would provide ground based support for planetary astronomy. One was built in Texas. One was built in Hawaii. And while there were some pledges of observing time for NASA specified projects, they weren't very large percentages. Twenty percent is what I remember.
There was also a possible justification for a large NASAfinanced Southern Hemisphere telescope. There wasn't anything there at all at the time, and NASA had all kinds of long term plans in the future that would need it. Of course they had tracking stations in Australia by this time and still do.
And so we went ahead with overtures to NASA. Then strangely enough, their reception wasn't what you'd call totally deaf to our inquiry. I was rather shocked, it shocked me.
You didn't expect the money to come through?
Well, you expect to get a brush off when you ask for that many million dollars.
The site survey was then ongoing and you were asking for the money for the telescope. What kind of telescope were you talking about at that time?
Well, I don't remember exactly, but possibly another 200-inch.
What eventually happened?
We didn't get the money.
Oh, you didn't get the money?
NASA just came to a certain point, where they said, "No, we don't have the money." But along the way, some things had happened. The overture from Bowen, which was certainly known about by the Ministry of Science in Australia and by the Australian Ambassador to the United States, was undertaken without ever severing any of the-long ongoing ties with British scientific agencies. So as a result, the British were spurred to life. And Hermann Bondi, who is quite high in British scientific ministries even now, came to the United States on a hurry-up mission, without touching any bases that I can remember in our part of the world. He said that he felt the British government would take a very dim view of this abrogation of a long time understanding, and that this was messing in U.K. matters. This is second hand, I am rephrasing what I think he said — messing in the international relations between Britain and a Commonwealth country. And this was likened to extramarital dalliances. And while I do not know for sure I have good reason to suspect that this turned the tide at NASA. They thought they didn't want to get into any international messes.
Well, you were still interested in a dark sky site.
Yes. And the next thing was that we thought, well, we tried, and for a time we thought we had a chance. We didn't make it. As far as the ambition of the U.S. having a large telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, the AURA project got back on the track. Some say — and I cannot verify that this is true from anybody who was close to the administration — that when Lyndon Johnson was going to Punta del Este — or one of these Western Hemisphere political things he was looking around for some plum, to say the United States would do something in the Southern Hemisphere that would be nice for South America. And there was this telescope for AURA that had been cancelled.
At about the same time, there were the contacts between the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Leland Haworth was the director of the National Science Foundation at the time. And I do not know who called whom, but the Ford Foundation put up something like half the cost of that telescope, the present four-meter at Cerro Tololo, and the National Science Foundation got the rest from federal funds.
Well, why did the Ford Foundation do it? I guess they felt they had walked out on a very deep commitment to the Southern Hemisphere, and people speculated, at least, that it might be a way of erasing any record of abrupt termination.
But it wasn't for CARSO, it was for AURA. You continued the dark sky program here in California?
Yes. And so, for us the Southern Hemisphere was closed out — one, we didn't get any money to do anything in Australia, and two, there was going to be a national telescope in Chile. I think we said at the time that there could be only one down south and that it was inevitable that it be a kind of a national one, rather than one institution joining up with a foreign government. This was true even if a fraction of the U.S. half of the time would be pledged to other users. I think one doesn't get a multi-million dollar appropriation from the federal government to do research without making a pledge of that sort.
So, those two things coming together: the fact that we didn't get anywhere in Australia and that there was going to be a telescope under national auspices, which we agreed was probably the only way it could ever happen, led us to think that we had to resolve our problems of limited telescope time and a brightening sky by looking for our dark sky site preferably in the state of California, because this would give us some reason to expect help from the state. And that was the birth of the dark sky survey, headed by Merle Walker, and the final settling on Junipero Serra, which is within reasonable commuting distance of Santa Cruz. It appears to be the best remaining site in the contiguous 48 states. It is also likely to stay that way. Subsequent tests which Merle has reported in the journals indicated that that non-degradation up to now has in fact been borne out.
How did the plans for Junipero Serra progress?
Well, we got the money for the site survey the same way we got it for the Southern Hemisphere, through President Kerr's recommendation to the Regents, that they set aside money from the non-tax funds that they had at their disposal.
This is already well after your Report?
Yes. And this extended for several years. I had a good deal to do with initiating the survey, and visited the site at certain times when it was well started. The further development of the idea extends over into the later period that is beyond what I think I want to report today; and so, you have to ask other people. I can summarize it in terms of these general concepts of how support comes, by saying that the concept of a university resident-astronomer-maintained observatory, when compared with the nation-wide more democratic concept, embodied by the National Observatory at Kitt Peak, doesn't have as much appeal. There's nothing sufficiently unique about doing general astronomy from the best site that remains in the 48 contiguous states. I don't want to downgrade Mauna Kea in Hawaii because it's a very good site.
And so, the prospect of getting funds from the national treasury to fund something like that has met pretty hard going. And it could be said, if one were in the position of having to decide which scientific projects are most worthy of support that astronomers have had it pretty good, the optical astronomers. They've had lots of telescopes, one way and another, in many different sites, and far beyond the original description of that first ten year program.
Do you feel that your requests have been satisfied?
Yes, but it took more than ten years.
You asked for three large telescopes, was there a third one also?
Not under U.S. auspices. What has happened is that other four meter telescopes have been built in the Southern Hemisphere. The Anglo-Australian, ESO. And some fairly large ones, not quite four meter, are in various stages on Mauna Kea, a French-Canadian one.
Moving back to the Whitford Report then, you also called for a feasibility study, for what you called a giant telescope. Did anything ever materialize out of that, or would you say that the MMT is that type of instrument.
No. This you can get brought up to date on by other people than me, but I'll make a comment. The engineers who were around at the completion of the two four meter telescopes for AURA, the one on Kitt Peak, the one in Chile, formed a group to think about the so-called X-inch. And they have a series of interim engineering reports — Kitt Peak reports — if you dig in the archives of any large observatory, you probably can find them. I haven't read them.
Yes. I've seen them but I haven't read them.
Yes, and they're talking about really large telescopes.
Continuous surface mirror telescopes?
Well, there's competition between various multi-mirror telescope concepts, fly's eye concepts, and a single glass or single optical element of one piece.
You were thinking of the one piece at that time, when you were doing the feasibility study?
I don't think we prescribed anything.
No, you didn't in that Report.
I think traditional astronomers would have said that if you can make it that way it's more likely to work.
Well, telescopes almost as big as 50 or 75 feet aperture have been thought of, and there's a group here that's also thinking about it, headed by Joe Wampler.
I've heard rumors like that — that there is a gigantic 1000-inch telescope or something that various people the University of California community are thinking about.
Yes. Well, I don't know, you'll have to ask. The noises I hear most, are for something that is buildable and financeable and administrable by the talent that could be gathered together, is something like 10 meters, twice the size of the 200-inch.
Well, the point that you've made in your report was that if a giant telescope was to be built, it really did have to be considerably larger than what's around today to make the effort worth it.
Yes. These were the arguments that are being considered by the Kitt Peak group, and by the multi-mirror group. Just exactly what does a larger ground-based telescope buy that the orbiting Space Telescope that's going to come along in the eighties can't, or simply won't have enough time to do?
Well, I've long been out of this, so as I say, you'd have to ask the people who are at the forefront thinking about these things to tell you about it, if you want to know about it.
There's two other questions on the Whitford Report. First of all, you identified four major problem areas at this time that had to be attacked, and I'm just wondering how those four developed. I'll read them off to you, for the tape. Number 1 was creation of chemical elements. No. 2 was new knowledge from radio astronomy. No. 3 was exploding galaxies. No.4 was quasi-stellar radio sources. This is dictated from the Report. In identifying these four problem areas, rather than getting into them to any extent, was the panel unanimous in the choice of these areas, or was there a lot of discussion on how to identify these areas?
Oh, I think it reflected the consensus. The two leading spirits on the optical and the radio side in the panel, were Alan Sandage and Frank Drake. I think Frank Drake was the more imaginative of the two, and they were both excellent exponents of their view in the hearings before the full committee on Science and Public Policy.
There was a hearing?
That's very interesting. I'd like to find out probably from the National Academy if we can get a transcript of that.
All you had to do was to get these two people to stand up and show their pictures and diagrams, and they were so eloquent and obviously knew what they were talking about that one didn't have to go into any of the official organizational gobbledegook that usually besets these reports: "who's going to report to whom, who has the authority to do this, and so on." It just showed the glamour of astronomy emerging, with the help of large telescopes — the intrinsic intellectual excitement. And that was all it took.
So that was never a problem?
No. It was due to the effectiveness of these two leading scientists.
That's interesting. So there were no dissenting opinions?
Yes. Well, I think with hindsight, you would say that it was only a limited view. Exploding galaxies and quasars have more or less coalesced into one broad spread that begins with galaxies that are not quite normal, to the brightest quasars there are, the most violent ones. And we're holding a workshop here this summer about it, as you know. There are some pretty good people here.
That's still going on.
Yes, it's just starting the second week, this week.
Well, the second thing I wanted to ask you about then was, in your report you made two ten year projections for manpower statistics in astronomy. The first projection was based upon a 19 percent per year growth rate, in the number of graduate students and PhD's awarded, and you predicted then by 1973 that there would be about 1500 PhD's needing telescope time. Then your second prediction was based on the possibility that there would be a decreasing percentage growth rate, 19 percent first year down to something like 7 percent the tenth year.
Seven percent was the general average of the physical sciences that had been maintained for some time, a decade or more.
Exactly, and that was going to produce something like 1250 PhD's needing telescope time at the end of '73.
Now, I made a very brief scan of your projected breakdown of the numbers of graduate students one would expect department by department, and things have changed of course during that period of time, where many of the enrollments were either under or over estimated, but not worrying about individual departments, how has this general predictive trend been met?
Well, I think you'd have to say, looking back, that we had a rather provincial view of what astronomy was, in the early sixties. And indeed, this was a ground-based astronomy oriented survey. I told you the reasons for that, coming from Kistiakowsky in the first place.
By the time of the Greenstein Report, this provincialism had been swept aside and astronomy was all one big enterprise, going all the way to X-rays and gamma rays. And infra-red had become important, and the extreme ultraviolet from above the atmosphere was beginning to produce important results which could have been foreseen.
What you're saying is that the larger expanded spectrum of study in astronomy brought in more people?
The intrinsic excitement was there. It was the most exciting field in the physical sciences for about ten years. I don't know whether it still is or not. But let's say the X-ray group around Cambridge, MIT — American Science and Engineering — and the discovery of pulsars, which was between radio and optical astronomy, and oh, the whole developing subject of active galaxies, beginning with Seyferts and BL Lacertae objects now and Quasars themselves were not foreseen.
Actually, I was thinking of it the other way around, that you had no way of being able to foresee the tremendous cutbacks there were going to be in federal funding and everything. In view of all of these, how has the astronomical community grown, compared to the way you thought it would grow?
I have not looked at the figures. I've been out of this decade, and I've decided to pursue other things in the years that I still have. So you're not asking anybody who can comment with other than general impressions.
I was thinking of the ten year period up to '73. Rather than the present.
I would say that the total number of people that do astronomy increased considerably. Many of them were brought in from engineering and physics. Radio astronomy was largely populated by engineers. X-ray astronomy and some of the infra-red efforts attracted physicists. Charlie Townes would be an example of someone with infra-red interests. And all of these brought students with them. The considerable grant support that has come for these expanded fields, perhaps more from NASA than from NSF, has meant that there hasn't been the kind of withering, in my view, that you suspect might have happened.
The traditional graduate schools of astronomy, and many new ones that were formed on the basis of small local telescopes or intermediate size ones of the kind that the Report mentioned, plus access to the national facilities in both radio and optical astronomy, have produced a flood of students. Especially around the period 197D-73, this caused a great deal of concern about the job market and how they could all continue to earn their living, by doing astronomy of one kind or another, teaching and research or some combination thereof, or even manning planetaria. And there was a very serious, rather Jeremiah-like, report that came out somewhere along there.
Bart Bok is one that was very much interested in the problem. As a result, some of the better established graduate departments have practiced a certain amount of (we'll call it) birth control, but population control is perhaps a more accurate term. Princeton would be one example. Berkeley is another. This place (UCSC) has tried to stay level, because we started late, but there’s serious thought as to how big we can be and still get jobs for people who are well trained.
I didn’t realize that Berkeley had too.
I don’t know what the discussions were. I just know they don’t have as large a number of graduate students as they had at the peak.
In general, how do you think you Report was realized, as far as all of the recommendations for instrumentations that you’ve made? You just mentioned that you thought that they were basically met.
Yes. I think that it may have taken slightly more than a decade. But yes, I think they were. I think initially many felt that there was too much emphasis on the small and intermediate size telescopes and not enough on the really larger kind, maybe not the very largest. I think I would agree. And particularly when these smaller telescopes were put near a teaching university which felt that they needed a local facility, (and this was expanded on in the Report as a desirable and perhaps necessary arrangement), they were probably under-used. Access by graduate students to the national centers has become easier, and money to get the students there is not so exceptional. It's quite regular.
You say that the local telescopes have become a bit under-utilized?
I think so. Well, the cost-benefit ratio wouldn't be as high.
It's caused a number of these middle size telescopes, I'm thinking of the one at Yale in particular, to be moved to one of the national observatories.
Is this a trend now that's increasing, or?
Well, you can think of other examples. The Curtis-Schmidt at Michigan which was one of Leo Goldberg's big enterprises when he first went there as director, was moved to a site at Tololo, and it doesn't seem likely that it will be moved back.
The important thing is that I think you've identified that at least your recommendations were followed out. As the last major topic can you talk about your years as AAS vice president and then president, from '65 to '70? Is there anything special we should talk about, about your vice presidential position? What does the vice president of AAS do? What are his responsibilities?
He has to act in the absence or inability of the president to serve, and when Bengt Stromgren went to Denmark, (he resigned in the middle of his term), I became president a little ahead of the time that I might have.
I see. I didn't realize that.
The other thing that he traditionally has to do is to have a role in the planning of the programs. Meetings are organized around selected invited speakers; four odd is a minimum. It is his duty to select those topics and find appropriate speakers to lead off those invited talks in the sessions. Then there are the honorary lectures, like the Henry Norris Russell and the Warner Prize, and so on. They're outside of that.
But what about general policy in the Society? I know that a lot of things are happening now to cause the Society to change significantly, in the duties of the various officers who are both nominated and elected. But at the time that you were AAS president, let's take that whole period together, did people start talking and worrying about various changes that were necessary? More representation in Washington, closer ties with the funding sources, manpower problems, graduate student enrollment, the running of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL.
Those questions were with the AAS through all the years that I had anything to do with it. No, I don't think the vice president, other than this one assigned duty, had a role that was very much larger or more responsible than a council member who had been around a term or two.
But the president?
The president, if he chose to exercise it, could have considerable influence on the direction of policy. He could appoint key committees to formulate policy. An example would be a committee to negotiate with the University of Chicago about how the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL should be published, when Chandra resigned as editor.
Did he resign during your tenure as president?
Well, I'd have to look it up.
Let's talk about your years as president. What kinds of policies were in force at that time regarding the running of the society, and did you see any need to change them?
Well, there has been a continuing problem about what the role of the executive officer should be. The idea that there should be one was put through by Lyman Spitzer when he was president. There was simply too much to handle by volunteer efforts of busy professors and researchers. A great deal of this routine day-to-day work could be delegated. He .chose one of his former graduate students, Paul Routly, who is now at the Naval Observatory but had been in-between at Pomona College, as the first executive officer. It started right away and I don't think it ceased: certain people felt that he wasn't doing the right things. There were critics. And so my first problem was to decide whether these criticisms were strong enough.
What were the criticisms?
Well, I think Leo Goldberg, who was the president immediately preceding me or perhaps preceding Stromgren, felt that raising money by corporate memberships was an important way to go, and that the executive officer should spend a lot of time promoting this. Routly tried to, but I don't think he had a great deal of enthusiasm for ringing doorbells. But he did write letters and he tried to organize personal contacts between leading astronomers who had friends, technical or golfing club or whatever, in corporations who would see the corporate responsibility or advantage of supporting the AAS.
He was developing liaisons, rather than making contacts directly, through astronomers who had these friends?
Yes. There was a project called CAMP — Committee on Astronomical Motion Pictures — that had started long before my day. It had to do with teaching efforts. And somebody got a grant, and some films were made, one involving Mort Roberts, one involving George Preston.
Oh yes, I think I know the ones.
It got dumped in the Society's lap, and Routly had to spend a good deal of time on it.
Then, when the films were very acidly reviewed by somebody in the physics community, who had been through this before, lot of fix-up was needed so Routly spent a good deal of time on it, and I guess achieved a good result. But the question was, how big an impact do these films have?
It began at a time when we felt you had to somehow capture the imagination of teenagers about astronomy, and turn them towards this career, instead of going into Etyptology or something else.
Was it that, or was it really a feeling that you just needed general community support for astronomy, so that money would be forthcoming?
I think it was more about inspiring the young ones.
More about training them?
Yes. It was an experiment, and some people felt we spent too much time with this. After visiting Routly's office in Princeton and talking with people like Martin Schwarzschild who saw him every day, I decided that the criticisms were not sufficiently grievous to change. Routly later resigned. I guess he felt unhappiness under the pressure, and went to the Naval Observatory. There had been a personal friendship between him and Kai Strand. They were good drinking partners, I believe. The next and present executive officer, Hank Gurin, who is just now about to retire, was someone that Martin Schwarzschild found. I can't remember whether Martin was vice president at the time, or president or what. Anyway, Gurin had worked for some electronic company in New Jersey close to Princeton.
He was an astronomer?
No, he was not. That was one of the problems.
He didn't have to be elected?
He was just hired.
He was employed by the Council, after some kind of a recruiting effort, which didn't go through the present advertising procedures; the policy of widely advertising about the vacancy. This has been a change in general academic recruiting that has become quite universal, partly a result of affirmative action. It's something that British and Australian scientific recruiting efforts have always done, or done as long as I can remember. But the traditional way in the U.S. was that one just asked knowledgeable friends: "who would be good for this?" and got up a list.
How do you feel about the effectiveness or the efficacy of those two different methods? Which would you prefer?
Well, I haven't had any administrative duties during the time when the new way has become the standard way. I think, in general, it's better.
You said with Gurin one of the possible problems was that he was not an astronomer. What problems arose?
Well, everybody thought he was diligent and efficient in the routine things, but that he just doesn't have the "feel" gained from long years in the astronomical community, as to the direction things should go, whom he should lean on for advice. And then, there was a strong feeling that the executive officer should be more of a Washington contact man and lobbyist. This started long time ago. But it was asking someone who was established, in Princeton, a place thought of to be about half way between the New York-Cambridge axis and Washington, to pick up and move to Washington and learn a whole new bag of tricks. I don't know what happened in the Council.
This came up while you were president, the idea that he should move to Washington?
Yes, the idea that he should be more of an advocate.
Who fostered that? Someone on the Council?
It may have peaked during the years when I was the just-retired president, and still went to Council meetings. The presidents that succeeded me were Schwarzschild and Bok, I wouldn't want to identify anyone person as being the ringleader of that pressure, but it was quite general.
Was it a general feeling? Were you worried about that kind of move, that it might become too much of a lobbying operation?
There were some people who thought that lobbying might do us as much harm as good, if it was too blatant.
How did you feel about that?
I felt that it shouldn't be blatant, but I could see advantages of someone who lived in Washington and sensed the winds of policy, and who knew where the decisions were going to me made about federal support of astronomy and the physical sciences.
He was to take the responsibility to know what the needs of astronomy were, to be able to get to know the Washington bureaucracy. How was this person to be supported then by the AAS so that he could get to know these people? Phone calls or what?
Well, of course, there had to be an office in Washington, as opposed to an office that was for a time I think donated by Princeton University. So this move would be expensive. There would have to be a small office staff. The Princeton office had started out with a half-time secretary — a working wife from the university community. And then, there would be inevitable lunches with Congressional staff workers, who were usually the best informed about scientific matters of anybody in Washington. At least they were when I was around Washington.
When were you there?
I visited there on these various COSPUP things.
That sounds very interesting — a person who would seek out the various people on the Congressional staffs who were science oriented, and who would talk about how science should be treated.
Yes, and what Congressmen were interested in, or could be made to be interested in a particular field of science. A Congressman could become interested because this or that facility might be located in his territory.
That seems to be a very common problem. With military hospitals and things like that.
Anyway, at that time then, as you were outgoing president, you were becoming aware that there was going to be a general move?
Well, again, it was after I was even on the Council. And I think it was decided that to force it through would be too big an upheaval and too big a change for the incumbent officer. It would be better to make a long term plan for it, planning the change when Gurin came to his retirement age.
I see, so it couldn't be done while Gurin was there.
What about other changes in policy in the Astronomical Society? I know that the Astronomical Society of the Pacific has made great attempts to change its image, changing from the LEAFLETS to MERCURY MAGAZINE, and having popular lectures up and down the state, and sponsoring a lot of things from bumper stickers to heaven knows what. The AAS has not really gone this route, but it has developed a task group for education in astronomy, the TGEA, and a number of manpower groups. How do you see this? Were these trends beginning while you were president?
Certainly, there always was a committee on teaching, going back for decades. But an attempt to enlist the focused interest of those who were most deeply committed to it, at all levels of astronomy, was fostered during those years.
But the idea of actually producing a whole division for education, creating an education officer, as now is being advocated?
No, that hadn't gotten that far. I mean going to the public in the way that the PASP has tried to do. Since it is a joint professional-amateur organization, both in terms of its charter and its membership, it's in a good position to do that. But the AAS could hardly do it on a nationwide basis.
I don't think that this was seriously thought of as a necessary or desirable role for the Society. I think there was a feeling that we should be aware of all of the movements involving amateurs and planetaria, cooperate with them, and (encourage) the local teaching departments of astronomy to make their own individually chosen efforts in certain directions.
But the central role of the society was for professional astronomers to exchange information about their own research, and perhaps to join in some collective instrumental planning, or manpower planning endeavor. But there was never pressure for what you might call publicity hype, if you want to be derogatory. I think Bok was the leader of the group that believed in lots and lots of lectures, that public consciousness of what the stars were and what astronomers did was important. He loved it and loved to do it himself.
Was there a move during your presidency to create these programs?
No, I think it was left to the efforts of individuals subsequently — individual subgroups of astronomers and individual astronomers — to do what they wanted to do. But the society shouldn't engage in an organized effort to raise the public consciousness or improve the image of astronomy and astronomers in general, just for the man who reads the morning headlines.
Returning to something that was brought up by this change in style, as to how you recruit people for jobs. One of the things — a small thing but it's illustrative — that came up in my years was the nominating committee hassle. The nominating committee had always prepared a slate in which the four principal offices had one nominee, and in the Council there were twice as many nominees as the number elected in anyone year. There was criticism of this, led by Don Osterbrock, suggesting that it led to possible ingrown cliques, and to long term office holding, when sometimes a change might be desirable, if alternatives were proposed to the electorate. This, particularly in offices like secretary and treasurer.
And so, he said that he thought that nominees would agree to stand, even for president, with the knowledge that they only had mathematically a 50 percent chance of getting elected, and that it would not be a disgrace if someone else got elected. He felt this was a good way to go. A committee was appointed to find just ways of handling the nominating committee. And they did come up with a proposal that was more or less the same as Osterbrock's. But there were arguments about continuity, and some safeguards were needed.
Continuity — particularly with officers like secretary and treasurer. They do have pretty long terms now, but under the new rules they can't have an indefinite number of them.
Yes, I noticed that those two offices have been quite long. Very few people have held them. They seem to be very time consuming jobs, important jobs, so the continuity is awfully important.
Are there any issues in the AAS period that we should cover? You mentioned the nominating committee. That seems to be a very interesting important change, because I know that the RAS still does it the old way.
What about women in astronomy? Did they change the basic policies? Were there undercurrents at the time you were president?
Well, it hadn't gotten to the present phase. Margaret Burbidge's declining to accept the Annie J. Cannon Prize was I think what touched off that. That happened after I had an active role.
There was a long tradition of dedicated women astronomers. Certainly the Harvard group that gathered, well before Shapley's time and certainly under Shapley, would offer examples. As far as I know, there was no accusation that they were denied appointments that they would have gotten in free competition with the whole field. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a member of the Harvard faculty, certainly.
Well, she didn't gain full professorship until some time in the late fifties.
It's possible it was delayed.
Well, in the last few moments here, I'd like you to sort of give me your general impression of what you consider to be either the most interesting or most important research that you personally engaged in.
Well, in the years before I took on administrative duties in 1948, much of the research was just meshed together with that of Joel Stebbins. I think, I certainly had a share in the astronomical planning and the interpretation beyond the initial contribution, which was that of providing advanced instrumentation.
Those years were very satisfying ones, as I look back on them. They got me interested in galaxies. The first paper that I did as an astronomer was one on the magnitudes of the brightest galaxies, when I was still a post-doc fellow at Mt. Wilson. And I suppose the other things that stand out are law of reddening, and wide range spectrophotometry of reddened and unreddened objects, some of the latter was a long time getting published, but it seems to have stood up fairly well in the light of what other people have found later.
The anomalous reddening of distant galaxies, the so-called Stebbins-Whitford effect, was an exciting thing at the time, but it was our own lack of perception that we didn't see how we had been led astray. I think I was the one who showed that the alternate explanation that had been put forward by de Voucouleurs was correct.
The reason for the misconception, first pointed out by de Voucouleurs, that there had been too much smoothing of the energy curve of galaxies by broad band filters, was something that I verified several years later, as being in fact true. I always remember what Stebbins said: "If the effect had to die, it's better that it be put to death by the people who discovered it."
Well, the administrative years meant a big gap in research. But, getting back to research, now that I've had a chance to, has been a quite satisfying and rewarding experience for me. I don't think that I have done anything monumental, but because I've had time to explore all of the ramifications, I do take some satisfaction from the work on the Wing-Ford Band, which is already in print. The Wing-Ford at 9900 , now identified as the iron hydride band, is a population indicator in galaxies.
You've been doing integrated spectra of galaxies.
Yes. Well, the energy curve of galaxies was something that I wrote a chapter on for the STARS AND STELLAR SYSTEMS series. I wasn't the only one who made observations; Oke and Schild did too. This work did provide a firm basis for calculating the so-called K effect, that arises from the fact that the measured part of the spectrum shifts as you go to galaxies with larger and larger red shifts, so you have to translate them back to the rest frame. You can't do that without knowing the energy curve.
And one has to assume that the energy curve hasn't changed over the light transit time between the nearer and the far galaxies, and all we know so far is that the change isn't very fast. It cannot be said to be zero.
Then, I am happy about a paper that is now in press, in which I have shown that the integrated properties of the nuclear bulge of our own galaxy, in the Baade window, near the globular cluster NGC 6522 at galactic latitude -4, when surveyed with a scanner, are indeed what you would expect of a patch of a typical galaxy. These properties are very much like those shown in scanner studies of other galaxies, viewed in much the same way. You can make a comparison with one or two edge-on ones, where you can look a little bit off the nucleus, much the same way as we do in our own. The new result strengthens the conclusion that we have indeed got a precious example of a typical galaxy population here, one that's close enough to resolve a lot of the individual stars. It will be interesting to see what that leads to.
Yes. What are your feelings for the near future of research in the evolution of galaxies? What do you think are the most important growth areas in that research, some of the problems that if studied today will lead to the greatest advancement in the future?
Getting a better understanding of the stellar population of galaxies seems to me to be important. The standard sample has usually been the ellipticals because in them there haven't been any recent star births. You have only aging rather than birth and death going on at the same time. If one could know the number of stars of each class, and their physical properties and evolutionary state, then one would be able to calculate how the integrated properties of the galaxy should change with time. Not showing how to make the evolutionary correction for a very distant galaxy is one of the great problems now in interpreting Sandage's results on galaxies with a large red shift.
He doesn't know how to make it?
No, he doesn't know. It's quite likely that galaxies get dimmer as they age. But the rate of dimming is very uncertain. And consequently when you plot the so-called Hubble Diagram of velocity shift versus magnitude or red shift versus magnitude, you don't know how to correct the magnitude to allow for the fact that the very distant ones are seen at an earlier stage of their evolution. And so I think all efforts to understand the population makeup of the galaxy would be important.
This is my own current personal enthusiasm, perhaps not widely shared. That's why I'm quite enthusiastic about finding out more about the center of our own galaxy it's worth a lot more study than it's gotten.
I think it is important to understand, if we can, how the various morphological forms of the galaxies, described by the Hubble classification scheme, came to be. What influence in the formation period of a galaxy decided that some would be elliptical, some would be spirals, and some would be that mysterious intermediate class systems that are flat but do not have stellar spiral arms and apparently no recent star births.
How do you feel about the mechanism of stripping and galaxy accretion as confusing the picture?
Well, I don't think the answers are in yet. Of course this is a leading scheme in the present study of galaxies. Perhaps the later history of a galaxy wasn't all determined on some day somewhere early in the Big Bang, presumably shortly after matter and radiation became uncoupled — the time when the galaxies separated out, one from another. This is not at all certain, and certainly it's a leading theme in present day speculation, that there have been interactions between galaxies and their environment; that large galaxies feed on nearby small ones, and so on.
I don't think all the answers are in on that, and it's certainly an exciting field, and a lot of people are very interested in it.
One quick thing here — I read in the newspaper (I've been out of contact the last week or so running around) — I saw a news conference with Wampler, where he was reporting on some recent work with quasars. Are you familiar with that work?
Oh, yes, I've read the article in NATURE.
I didn't see that.
I think it was an early May date, May 10 perhaps. It's a pretty daring first look, but there's a lot more to do before you decide, in my opinion, that any solid conclusions can be drawn from it. It got a lot of headlines, because he said that the evidence is definitely on the side that the universe will eventually collapse, which means that q o > ½.
And so saying that the universe is going to collapse, or is collapsing, gets a lot of headlines. It isn't collapsing now. It's expanding. But eventually it will collapse.
Well, that's extremely important, since to almost everybody up to this point, it has looked more and more like evidence for the open universe.
How do you feel about it?
Well, I guess I'd be a little surprised if the open universe doesn't survive. The evidence which Wampler's team has is based on a result found by a former graduate student here, now at Cambridge. Jack Baldwin was able to show that in a certain class of quasars which have a so-called flat radio spectrum, the width of a particular broad band feature is a luminosity indicator; the broader it is the more luminous the galaxy. Everybody knew that there were bright and dim quasars, but it was kind of hard to tell which was which. However if you classify them on that basis, you do get something like a Hubble Diagram. But tying down the zero point, isn't anywhere near as pretty as on the Sandage Diagrams, based on optical red shifts, that don't go anywhere near as far out. It's pretty obvious that there is scatter. They apply the usual significance tests to decide whether they have just a random scatter, or they have a trend that has some significance? They came out with the answer: there is a trend, and it does have significance.
It's the same game that Hubble started and Sandage has pursued so hard. And in the news conference, if you read the whole text of it — mostly this part was thrown out by the rewrite people -Wampler does say that the possibility of evolutionary changes reversing the answer still exists, but the possibility seems much more remote than it did for the optical range. And he cites the fact that Sandage's result, if you don't make any evolutionary corrections because you don't know how to make them, is also on the side of an eventually collapsing universe, with qo ½. A point that people like Beatrice Tinsley have been making for some time is that over quite a wide range of assumptions that aren't very restricting, the evolutionary corrections almost certainly have to be on the side that would reverse Sandage's conclusions. And there has to be discussion of whether quasars — which are presumably sort of a shortlived phenomenon in the history of a galaxy, or what later is going to become a galaxy are something that is more standard than the total luminosity of a galaxy, which just evolves and will finally wear out. There's something that you just have to argue about separately, and I haven't seen any detailed discussion of it. But until the evolutionary question is addressed, and some answers given, I personally want to say, I'll wait and see.
On quasars, what is your continuing opinion of Arp's work? Do you think he's making any headway, at least showing that a certain class of quasars are —
Are not at red shift distances?
I can't say that I've studied it in enough detail recently to have any really informed opinion. I'd rather not venture one.
Is there anything you’d like to comment on that I’ve left out?
No, I think you’ve gotten more than you care to Know already. (Laughter)
No. But, I thank you very much. You'll have it back in the near future, to have a good look at it.
Thank you. Probably I'll want to.
"Astronomy and Astronomers at the Mountain Observatories", in Berendzen, ed. EDUCATION AND HISTORY IN MODERN ASTRONOMY (N.Y.:Academy of Sciences, 198, 1972), p. 2002 ff.
MEMOIRS OF CAROLINE HERSCHEL by Mrs. John Herschel (London, 1875).
EXPLORER OF THE UNIVERSE: A BIOGRAPNY OF G.E. HALE.
Burbidge had just become director of Kitt Peak National Observatory.
"Ground-Based Astronomy—A Ten Year Program: (National Academy of Science, 1964).
APJ 83 (1936) PH. 424.
BULL. AM. ASTR. SOC. 4 (1972) pg.230.
STARS AND STELLAR SYSTEMS VOL. IX, ch. 5 (Chi, 1975).
See: APJ 169 (1971), pg. 215.
1978 ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL 226, 777.