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Interview of Arlo Landolt by David DeVorkin on 1996 October 31, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5922
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This interview is part of a small program to document the recent history of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). These interviews were used as background studies to help authors of chapters of the centennial history volume of the Society research and organize documentary materials. The volume to be published in 1999.
We are Arlo Landolt and David DeVorkin in Washington, D.C., on Halloween, 1996, October 31st.
Great. You did my work for me. The oral history is conducted under the auspices of the American Institute of Physics and the National Air and Space Museum. Its purposes are to take a biographical profile of you and to search out themes, vignettes, elements of your contacts in astronomy as a discipline, as well as astronomy as a profession, that will help to illuminate the history of the American Astronomical Society. This would be material that you could use in any way you see fit for your essay for the centennial book. Okay. What we’ll do is start with your early life. You were born in Highland, Illinois, September 29, 1935.
Could you just tell us a little bit about your home life, who your father and mother were, what their occupations were, and your early schooling, and how your interests developed.
My father was Arlo M. Landolt; our middle initials are different. My mother was Vesta — like the asteroid, but they didn’t know anything about asteroids — Vesta Kraus Landolt. They were born, raised, and lived their entire lives in the communities of Highland, Grant Fork, and Pocahontas, Illinois. They were farmers. My parents’ were farmers, and virtually all my relatives were farmers. I went to a one-room country grade school called the IXL, those letters, Country Grade School. I went through grade school in seven years of the eight years. We were allowed to be accelerated — well, there were so few of us that the teacher would teach at whatever level we were capable of learning, and so I went through eight years of material in seven years. In those entire eight grades in that one-room country schoolhouse, there were normally about twelve students. It was the old country tradition. We walked to school, or in on gravel or mud roads or something like that. It was a farming community, and virtually everyone was within a mile or two of the schoolhouse. There were many of these one-room country schoolhouses scattered around south central Illinois in the late thirties, forties, and fifties. They disappeared probably in the early fifties. Those one-room schools were combined into a consolidated school district. The whole area is about fifty miles east of St. Louis, along the old U.S. Route 40. So that sort of sets the scene. All my relatives were farmers. I was the first one to go to high school.
You were the first one to go to high school?
In the family. On either side of the family, as I recall. I had some distant cousins who went to high school. So I was the first one to go to high school, let alone going to college. Probably the strongest early influence in my life was my mother. She sat down with my brother —
Were you the oldest?
I was the oldest of four.
Four. And brothers or sisters?
I’ve got one brother and two sisters. I was first, then my brother, then two sisters, and much later, my parents had another baby that passed away at birth.
Now, you say your mother was influential.
Mother was influential in that she sat down with us kids and taught us at home under the gasoline lamp and all that good old stuff, to read and write, and saw to it that we did homework and worked with us. My parents had eight years of elementary school education. She sat and worked with us early on.
Did your father or mother have any role in the local community? Were they community activists in any way in the church or anything like that?
My mother was involved in the church, with the Ladies Aid Society and that sort of thing. I don’t really remember the way the one-room country schools were governed. My father may have been involved with the few people or individuals who ran it. It wasn’t run by a school board. I just don’t know how those old one-room country schools were operated. I don’t know who employed the teachers, whether there were several of the more senior citizens, or fathers, or parents in the community helped employ them. I just don’t know that history.
But you have a sense, a strong recollection, that it was your mother who helped with learning.
She was the one who helped push the learning. My father and the men in those days worked hard on the farms. We had milk cows and we had the whole gamut of what small farmers had in those days. My father’s still living. I could ask him who operated the school, for instance.
Did you have farm chores and that sort of thing?
Oh, yes. As we grew large enough to do things, we had to help feed the chickens, and bring in the eggs, and do work around the barnyard, and slop the hogs, and milk the cows, and all that stuff.
Anything unusual that you would say you did around the farm? By unusual, I mean did you have any particular fascination with farm machinery or with radio at that time?
No. I was frustrated in the sense that I would like to have worked with the farm equipment, but I remember very vividly that I was never very good at building or repairing things. I would like to have done that, but it just didn’t seem to be in my bones. Consequently, I’m not an instrumentalist in this life. I’m an observer.
And you distinguish the two, of course.
Well, yes. Because there are people who are really good instrumentalists, who can build things, conceive and build things. While I can think of things to build on occasion, I’ve never really felt that I’ve had the capability. I don’t know whether I’ve never had the capability, or never had the training, but whatever it was, I’ve never evolved into being able to build things, which I sort of like to do, but I’ve never done it.
Let’s go back, though, to your training. Was the one-room schoolhouse the first eight years or the first —
The first eight years.
The first eight years. As you recall it, how was the decision made that you would go beyond those first eight years, or was there any chance that you wouldn’t?
I really don’t know whether it was just expected that I go on, or whether I showed interest, because in order to get to high school, families had to band together, and there would be an automobile which would pick us up and take us to, in the earliest years, to some central place where we got a school bus. Later on there was a school bus that came near home and picked us up. I must admit, Dave, these things are a little fuzzy, just how they evolved and what we did. But I know that Dad had to pay out of our pockets to get me to wherever I went to high school.
And you don’t recall any major question as to whether you would go? It was pretty sure that you would go?
Apparently, it was pretty sure that I would go. Yes.
Did all of your siblings go?
How would you describe your high school education and the development of your interests?
In high school I started out the normal way that farm youngsters did. I took all the curricula in agriculture and that sort of thing, but later on I became more interested in the mathematics, the physics, and the science aspect of education.
Would you say this was when things started to change for you, you started to develop an interest?
I would suppose so, although my interest in astronomy didn’t develop until I was well into my college career.
Were there particularly inspiring teachers in your high school that got you interested, or was there something else? Possibly your mother?
I really am not certain. I know that many times in the summer it was too hot to sleep in the house and we’d sleep out on the lawn or on the farm wagons, like that. So you had the sky above you and all that. How much a role that had, it’s hard to say. I’ve thought about this on occasion, but I’ve never thought hard about it. I really haven’t had to, I suppose. We had a high school teacher who was accomplished at teaching science at some level. It was just sort of that I was interested in science and just sort of went that way. But I remember in high school that I tried to enter the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, but I wasn’t quite clear what to do. My teacher wasn’t quite clear what I should do either, and I don’t remember that I got anything done at all. It was more than an interest in trying. But in the early years, it was pretty much in a sense of a frustration. I really never achieved any of the goals. I only vaguely remembered that I was interested in it. I don’t remember that anything was accomplished, or any kind of a project of any sort was ever thought out or worked out. I didn’t have the capabilities, apparently. I mean, I didn’t have anything laid out that I felt I wanted to do, and there was no one really to guide me to get involved in it.
What about books and library facilities? Did you read math and science books at this time? Did you have access to a library?
The closest I came to that was that I was involved in 4H Clubs early on, and I had 4H projects. My Dad diversified his farming in that he didn’t put all of his eggs in one basket. We had a small number of milk cows; we had a small number of hogs; we had some chickens; we had a variety of crops in the fields. My 4H projects always involved raising hogs. Dad always raised cross-breeds, mixtures, mixed breeds. But we tried to go with purebred for my projects. They were supposed to do better. But that didn’t work out very well either. That sort of thing is not straightforward. It turned out that I got real frustrated with this sort of thing. I’m not sure frustrated is the right word, but anyhow, it didn’t work out. The old hogs would lie on the little ones and that sort of thing, and kill them. So I never raised enough. Dad always had some, but the purebred just never worked out. I’ve always been impressed that the cross-breeds worked much better than the purebred ones. At any rate, I finally sold the last of my hogs and bought a set of Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia. In those days you could buy them over time. I’m not sure whether they became available through grocery stores or what, but you could buy a volume every month or something like that. So I bought a set of Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia with the proceeds of my 4H hogs, and I read them cover to cover when I got each volume. I don’t remember when this was. It had to have been in the late forties, I suppose.
Any recollections of World War II, and any influence on the family?
The most vivid recollection of World War II was V-J Day, when I must have been around ten or so, and gasoline rationing was over, and Dad said, “We’ re going to town.” That’s my biggest recollection of that.
Nothing like your father being called or anything?
My father was exempt, as were many of the young farmers.
That’s right. Just jumping ahead, obviously you went to Indiana University after that. I want to talk about the choice for Indiana, and if you were the only one of your siblings who went on to college, or if all of them did.
That was a Ph.D. for Indiana, by the way. My undergraduate degree was from Miami University, Ohio. My brother did not go to college. My two sisters did. Both of them have gone on to graduate work as well. My brother has had a varied career. He started out with an International Harvester dealer. His name is Darrell M.; he started out assembling farm machinery. He always loved machinery, and he was good with his hands. He’s become very accomplished with his hands.
He didn’t stay on the farm, however?
He didn’t stay on the farm. We both inherited from my mother, at some level, allergy problems. They’re not serious, but they made us uncomfortable, and Darrell couldn’t take the dust very well when we made hay. You windrow the hay, and it’s a dusty business, and you harvest the soybeans and the wheat and that sort of thing, and run the combines. The amounts of dust affected him. He was very interested, very capable and interested and had a knack for machinery, which I didn’t have. People are born with these knacks at some level. I know they are. But at any rate, he had that knack. So he went into that. Then he worked as a mechanic and became a foreman for a large Ford Motor dealership in Edwardsville, Illinois, about twenty miles from where we grew up. Then he went on to become an insurance adjuster for State Farm for a number of years. Then he had his own body shop for seven or eight years. Now, he’s been back again for a number of years as an adjuster for State Farm. He understood automobiles and that sort of thing very well.
A wide career.
What about your sisters? What are their names and what fields did they go to?
My older sister, younger than I, is named Faye Beth Heller. It’s her second marriage. She went through college and is a registered nurse. Faye has her master’s degree and I believe she got her degree from Southern Illinois University. She’s been working the last number of years at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. My younger sister is named Sheryl Sue Sauer. She went to the University of Illinois and got her degree in education. I think she’s done graduate work on her master’s, but I don’t know if she’s got it. Sherry is a schoolteacher in Salem and lives about fifteen miles away in Centralia. It’s a community maybe eighty miles or so east of St. Louis, a farming community. Her husband is a lawyer and a district judge.
That gives me a good picture. Now let’s go to the decision for you to go to college, to Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
Well, that was an interesting one in that I really wanted to go on in math and physics, and I wanted to go to M.I.T. [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. The family no way could afford M.I.T. I don’t know if I could have gotten in, but anyway, that’s what I wanted.
How did you hear about M.I.T.? Was this through your teachers?
I don’t remember whether it was reading in the school library, or whether I heard about it from teachers. I really don’t remember. I don’t know. But it was one of these big schools even back then in science and so on. So I probably read about it in the library. But Miami had, in those days, and they still have, a program where you went three years to Miami and two years to M.I.T., and got two bachelor’s degrees. You could do this in physics or perhaps other courses things, but —
This is a program you opted for?
Well, that’s what I thought. I would start that. But once I got to Miami I just went through the four years at Miami, because I never ever could have afforded to go to M.I.T., even with the three and two year program.
It would have cost you.
Oh, yes. My recollection is it would have. Miami University is a state university. It’s the second oldest university west of the Alleghenies. Ohio University in Athens is the oldest, and Miami is the second oldest. It started in 1809, or was set up in 1809. I don’t believe the first classes were held until 1815 or something like that. But it goes way, way back.
Okay. So the decision for Miami was —
Again, I don’t remember how I picked Miami. I don’t remember where I first learned about Miami, because no one from my community had ever gone there. I really don’t remember how I found out about it.
Not the possibility of the M.I.T. connection?
That may have been it. I might have seen that in some M.I.T. material.
How was the money raised for you to go to Miami?
Mom and Dad supported me, I mean, paid out part of it, but I worked while I was at Miami.
What work did you do?
I washed dishes, waited tables in dormitories, and later on became a busboy in a girls’ dorm. My career was spent washing dishes in the kitchens. The very first thing I did was wash dishes in the men’s dorm where I lived. That was a terrible mess. I’ll never forget my first night there. I had so much grease all over everything I couldn’t get rid of it. At any rate, that’s another story. But that’s how I did it. I spent time getting up every morning early and going down and helping with breakfast and then going to class, and then lunch and evening meal.
Did you feel fully welcomed and a full-fledged student at Miami University, or did you in any way feel as if you were a duck out of water? Was this a major change for you in your life?
It was a big change for me. It was the first time I had really been away from home. Socially, I was probably backward. Really, I had done essentially no dating before I went to college. I had certainly not met people from elsewhere. My roommate, with whom I keep in a little bit of contact still, was from New Jersey. He was a city boy and knew the world many orders of magnitude more than I. So it was quite a difference. But he and I always said that we got along so well probably because we were so very different, and we were very different. He was a playboy in a sense. I was shy, studious, I suppose. Anyway, that’s what I did, probably in part because I didn’t know what else to do, how to interact elsewhere.
Did you have to declare a major at some point at Miami?
I started out taking a general curriculum in math, physics, the usual basic curriculum one has. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be early on. I thought about geology at one point. I don’t remember whether I took an astronomy course by accident, but I did take an astronomy course relatively early on. I’d have to look at my old report cards to see what I took when, because I don’t remember.
But you did take astronomy?
There was a one-year astronomy course there that I took.
Do you remember the name of the teacher?
I think his name was Everett Miltenberger. I don’t know if it was B-E-R or B-U-R. I don’t remember that. I’m pretty sure his first name was Everett. I know his last name was Miltenberger.
Was there anything about that course that you remember as being a stimulus for your later interest?
Not really. It was just interesting. Yes.
So did you actually declare a major?
My major was physics and mathematics. I had a combined major — physics and mathematics.
Who were your most influential teachers?
My most influential teacher, probably, for reasons I really don’t know was my chemistry teacher. His name was Matuschka, and I’m not sure how to spell it, and I don’t know his first name. Herr Matuschka.
And I had some very good math teachers. I’m pretty sure his first name was Eric and his last name was Erickson. Eric Erickson was the math teacher, my calculus teacher. I think he taught differential equations, too.
A famous name. That’s a famous name, but in another field.
Yeah. He also was involved with surveying in the Miami area in those days. I’ll never forget him. I still see him teaching in the classroom. I don’t remember how many courses I had from him. He might have taught differential equations, too. I just don’t remember. Then I had several good physics teachers, and a very famous physics teacher. His last name was Edwards. He won the Oersted Prize. I don’t remember his first name. His last name was Edwards, though. “Doc” Edwards.
You called him Doc Edwards?
What type of physics did he teach, or all types of physics? Oersted — maybe he was electricity and magnetism or something.
No, it was an award, the Oersted Medal — I don’t know whether it was an APS medal or who gave the prize in those days. I don’t know whether it still exists. It was for excellence in teaching. It was for excellence in teaching, as I recall.
Did you experience any research while you were at Miami?
No. Nowadays, Miami has a strong complement of research for their undergraduates. You probably know Miami is one of the public Ivys you’ve seen written up on occasion.
It was in many ways an accident I got there, but it was really a bit of good luck. I’ve had a couple of bits of good luck in life, and that was one of them, going to Miami.
So you feel it was a very solid training.
So you graduated with a combined physics/chemistry major?
What were your intentions in your senior year, at least?
Well, for reasons I don’t remember, I pushed through school. I went through Miami in three years and two summers. I went to summer school between my freshman and sophomore year. I don’t remember. I’d have to go back and look. I don’t remember if I went to summer school between my sophomore and junior year and then — I did. Between my sophomore and junior year, and then at the end of my junior year I went to summer school, and I graduated in August.
Was it a financial thing?
I don’t remember why. I just wanted to push. I just did it. I don’t remember why, that I had any real reason. I don’t remember if it was financial. I mean, Mom and Dad were able to support me. There was no problem with finances that I knew, but I loved the education whatever it was, and I wasn’t enthused about being a farmer.
You had no intention of going back?
I had no intention, no. I didn’t necessarily know that early on. A curious thing, Dave, is that many people say — I know people I’ve been on search committees for, looking for jobs, they claim they had their lives laid out, blum blum blum. I can’t say that I ever had my life laid out, blum blum blum. I just kept going. Things were interesting, I worked toward, tried to work hard and things flowed. But I can’t say that I ever tried to point them in a given direction, as we’ll see a little later on with the IGY stuff. A lot of things just happened. They just happened. I’ve had a theory in some level. Whether there’s anything to it, I haven’t a clue. I’ve got a theory that many things were able to happen to me that’s more difficult for people to achieve now, whether or not they try it, because I was a Depression baby, and there were opportunities because there weren’t many of us around. I don’t know whether there’s anything to that or not, I don’t know.
No, that’s an interesting point.
There always seemed to be possibilities. I sort of hate to put it on tape, but my fifth sense was that it was never that I thought I had any, or even now think I have any, great brain power or anything like that, I’ve just worked hard with a work ethic I got from my parents. They worked very hard. My grandparents on my mother’s side, at least, worked very hard. My father’s did, too, but not to the same extent. It was curious. My brother and sisters all worked extremely hard, and somehow we got it from the parents without ever being told. It’s really amazing.
They were your examples.
But we’re Swiss, and the whole community in the Highland area is a Swiss community. I mean, Swiss-German. It’s a German-speaking Swiss. So it’s some ethic that came through. I really don’t know how or why.
What advice did you get while you were at Miami University for careers, for going on in education?
I don’t remember getting any advice. I pushed on my own, and when I started looking for graduate schools, I found out someplace, somehow where astronomy was, because by that time I knew I was interested in going on in astronomy. I’d never been to any meetings or anything like that.
Can you recount at all what convinced you or pushed you in the direction of astronomy? Because you were graduating in about 1955. Astronomy at that time, even though there were some important things going on, had nothing really extraordinary going on like the discovery of something. The universe’s size was doubled about a year before at [unclear].
Right. I vaguely remember that. I vaguely remember that being discussed, and that Sandage was involved with that, and so on.
Did you read any astronomy magazines? Did you have access to Sky and Telescope? Did you read any books? What was your astronomy textbook?
Baker. I had astronomy out of Baker. When I got to LSU [Louisiana State University] later on, we taught out of Baker. We used it at Indiana when I was a graduate student assistant.
So you didn’t go farther than Baker, to your recollection, as an undergraduate?
No, I know we did not. That’s the only astronomy course Miami had.
So do you have any kind of recollection of what brought you to astronomy?
The only thing I’ve ever been able to think of over the years is just being on the farm and looking up at the sky. I really don’t know what else it was. At Miami, at one point I went and visited the geology department, and the old gentleman there, his name was Scheidler, I believe. I don’t remember his first name, but he probably was the chairman of the department. But I remember he was an old-time gentleman. I looked at all the rocks and the fossils and things like that he had, and I jokingly said, but there may be more truth to it than just sort of a joke. I looked at all those fossil names and figured I could never ever pronounce them, let alone spell them, so I went to astronomy and learned to spell the constellations instead. But one of the strange things, David, on the times when I have reflected back about my past is that I’ve never really known any strong point, at least up to graduate school, which would drive me to any one of these directions. I was just interested. I mean, I was interested in a variety of things, and I still am.
Did your parents know the constellations? Did you know the constellations when you were a child?
I don’t recall that they did. If anybody did, it might have been my mother’s father. My mother’s father knew the trees, and knew all that sort of thing, much more than my father’s father did, at least in my recollection. My Grandpa Kraus would seem to know — well, I’m not sure if he was more observant, but he might have been. I bonded a bit more with him than with the other one. I’m not quite sure just why.
Your choice for Indiana as a graduate student then, any indicators of why you chose Indiana?
Yes, Frank Edmondson’s eyes.
I applied to various graduate schools and I didn’t get in some. I interviewed at Ohio State; I interviewed J. Allan Hynek. I met Arne Slettebak there. Didn’t know who they were really. I just knew a little bit about Hynek, I guess. I went and interviewed at Indiana. I applied to Michigan. I applied to Harvard and Berkeley, as I remember, or at least wrote them. I don’t know if I really applied, but I wrote them. Again, it was part of this business in life, I didn’t always know what I was getting into. I mean, just feeling my way, whatever. But anyway, I remember in my visit to Ohio State, I still remember standing in the bottom part of the twelve-inch refractor building, where I believe they had their offices in those days. I remember talking with Hynek there and Arne. I remember they took me to lunch at the Faculty Club. I was impressed with the Faculty Club. That’s what I thought a faculty club should be like. But then I went over to Indiana, and it was Edmondson’s twinkling eyes, and his bubbling saying, I don’t know, whatever it was. I don’t remember for certain. I’m pretty sure I remember getting accepted all three places, and I believe I had assistantship possibilities at all three places. I can’t know that for sure anymore. My memory says Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. But at any rate, Edmondson’s bubbling personality and the twinkle in his eye, and whatever it was, was what I think sold me on that. It may be that it was closer to Illinois, closer to home. That may be it. That may have played a role. I don’t remember. But it was that sort of thing. But Frank was a big part of it.
Let’s place you then at Indiana starting in, I guess, ‘55, and you were there for seven years.
Yes, and I was gone with IGY for two years in the middle of that.
With the IGY. So carry me through. What kind of courses did you take, who became your most influential teachers, and when did you first encounter research?
Straightaway in a sense, because my assistantship there was on the asteroid patrol that Frank had. Edmondson set up a program of recovery of lost asteroids after World War II. A couple of us were involved in taking the photographs at night. We went to school in the day and worked at night. We took turns going up and taking plates every clear night. That’s how I earned my assistantship, as I remember it, the first year.
Did you do any plate reductions, blinking, looking for the asteroids?
No. There was a woman that Frank had whose job it was to blink the plates, measure the approximate positions, and then that stuff was all sent over to Paul Hergert in Cincinnati.
Right. The nature of the courses. Were you taking more physics? Where did the physics reside in the astronomy you were taking?
It was a separate department in those days, and still is.
Right. But was physics considered to be central to the astronomy courses you were taking?
They had two programs in those days, a program for astronomy and a program for astrophysics, and if you went the astrophysics route, you took more physics courses and math than if you took the astronomy route. I don’t know how soon it became apparent, but I found out relatively fast that I wasn’t cut out for physics. I really dearly wanted to. Originally, I really wanted to be a mathematical physicist, and I found out it just wasn’t in my bones. So I was put in the astronomy path as opposed to the astrophysics path, and so I never had as much theory. Even in those days, probably, I didn’t have as much theory as many people were given. And quite candidly, if I had to go the theory route, particularly the physics route, I, frankly, probably wouldn’t have made it, because I would love to have done it then, I would still love to be able to do it, and it’s just not me, or whatever it is. It goes way back to what my training was. I don’t know. But I suspect that it’s one of the characteristics of me as a human, that I probably — I might have the desire, but I don’t have the capability now. I really don’t know. It’s a curious thing. I’m probably being more candid here than I ever have been verbally to anybody.
Well, it’s something I take very seriously, because those different paths were available as well in the 1960s at UCLA, but they led to different types of careers. I’m wondering were there any different career paths for the astronomy path and the astrophysics path. Did your teachers talk about what you would do?
I don’t know that they ever talked. I don’t ever remember hearing anybody saying what the different career paths meant. I really don’t know. Of course, you don’t see the letters of recommendations that they write for you later on in life and that sort of thing, so I don’t know what people said. But if I had to make a guess, I would think that they would have expected me to go to some small school someplace and teach, I think.
It was more geared toward teaching.
Well, I wasn’t told that, but I don’t know that they ever thought I had any great — what’s the word — propensity for research. I’m not sure of that. But I know some of my colleagues, some of my fellow students, were pushed more into some research things, or perhaps were thought would go and produce research. I don’t think that anyone thought I would be great in research, and I don’t think I’ve been great in research. I’ve done some interesting things.
By the sixties it was a little more clear that the astronomy alone would head you to a teaching career, but by then the field was much larger, far more competitive. But I do remember that quite clearly. We’re about ten years apart in this regard. But I am interested in how your interest in astronomy developed as a graduate student, and what your first contacts with the Astronomical Society were. Carry me through the years, especially your decision to go with the IGY, and who influenced you there.
This is tape one, side two, with Professor Arlo Landolt. We’re at the American Astronomical Society Executive Offices on Halloween, 1996.
My first year at Indiana involved beginning courses in astrophysics and optics. I don’t remember if I had atomic physics then. That was, of course, theoretical physics. I did okay in the astronomy courses as I remember. I had trouble with the theoretical physics course. One of my duties there, in addition to working on the asteroid patrol, was helping to keep track of incoming publications from observatories around the world. I don’t remember whether I was assigned to that task or I assumed it. Frank Edmondson had a wire basket in the reception area of the office suite for the faculty —
A wire basket?
A wire basket, in which incoming publications of various kinds were kept. I looked through those things and kept up with them. Among those was a publication about the International Geophysical Year. I don’t remember just which one of the different publications or announcements of possibilities was there, but there was some advertisement for a position. This was toward the end of my first year, so this would have had to have been in spring of ‘56, I guess. There was some indication of an opening — there was a position opening at Climax, the High Altitude Observatory, for an observer to take data with the coronagraph. Now, I’m not sure why I was interested in the coronagraph, except that as first-year graduate students we all had to give a colloquium, and my first colloquium was on the topic of solar flares. Again, why I chose that I don’t have a clue anymore, but my first colloquium seminar was on solar flares.
This was based primarily from reading the literature.
Just reading the literature. We just were asked to pick something interesting, and I picked that. So I applied for this job, this position, which was some way connected with IGY. I didn’t get it. As I remember, some Frenchman did, but I don’t know. That’s just a vague memory. But anyway, I didn’t get the job. Some aspects of my first year of school, I guess, were less than reassuring to me. I was doing all right, but I wasn’t setting the world on fire. I was doing adequately. I wasn’t in any danger of flunking out or anything like that. But at any rate, that was pretty young still, because I started college when I was sixteen, I guess. I was nineteen when I graduated, something like that. At any rate I was in graduate school at nineteen. I was looking for something else. Anyway, I found this possibility of going to the Antarctic with the IGY, and thought that would be pretty neat. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. It’s one of the curious things, Dave. A lot of these things I didn’t have a clue I was getting into, but fortunately, things worked out.
So when the Climax position didn’t pan out, they didn’t contact you, but you looked for other options?
There was something else in that wire basket.
I see. So you were looking for a break, just to get into something.
Yes. How consciously I was, I don’t know, but certainly the subconscious was looking for a break. I found this possibility to go with the IGY. It was something from the Arctic Institute of North America, which was the employing organization. Somehow I applied for that for a chance to go to the Antarctic. I apparently thought it was going to be pretty neat. Anyway, I applied for that. Lo and behold, I was chosen. There were four of five of us chosen to go down there, because we had four or five different places to send people to, the one at McMurdo, the one at — now, I’m not sure I have all these right — the one at the South Pole, the one at Siple Station, the one at Marie Byrd Land — so there were at least four.
You went to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station?
Yes. That was, again, pure luck in some sense. We had to sort of state why we wanted to go to the different places, and others wanted to go to the South Pole, too, although I didn’t really realize that at the time. But I proposed trying to set up an experiment that would allow one to track the sun around the sky and take spectra as this instrument was rotating and following the sun around the sky. This was very vague in my mind. We never put it in operation. We set it up, but we never put it in operation. Whatever it was, whatever I had proposed, was enough to get me the thumbs up to go to the South Pole.
So you actually did propose a specific experiment.
At some point, at some level. This is all vague. I hesitate to have it written down in any more detail because I really don’t remember what it was.
What did you end up actually doing?
Well, I was hired as an aurora air glow scientist. We all were. We were supposed to visually, photographically, and spectroscopically monitor the aurora and air glow. That’s why I was hired.
That’s certainly why it was the wintering-over party. You weren’t going to do any solar work.
That’s right. No, it was entirely aurora and air glow. So I got to go to the pole. You know, it’s incredible, because at the time I don’t think I realized the significance of going to the pole.
But it was quite a serious change, and I’m wondering if you sought the advice of any of your professors or of your family.
I told the family what I was thinking about, and the family has always been very supportive, but the family’s greatest fear was that I was going to be going away — really away — for the first time in the family’s remembrance. Nobody else had ever done anything quite like this. Nobody else had gone very far away from home, period, let alone going to the bottom of the world, the South Pole. They didn’t know what it was all about, really. I knew sort of, but I didn’t know in any great detail.
How would you typify your experience down there? What was it like?
It was absolutely fantastic. In retrospect, it was just a miracle. It was just really fantastic.
What did you do?
I really was lucky that our station leader was Paul Siple, the Boy Scout who went down with Admiral Byrd. This was Paul’s fourth wintering over, I believe.
You worked for him directly?
Well, he was our station leader. We each had our own job to do. We had some training before we went down, and no one told us what to do once we got down there. It was up to us to do it.
Your job was, as you said —
Aurora and air glow. I set up my own darkroom; I developed the film; I did visual observations. We had a spectrograph with film in it, and recorded the spectra. We developed those. We were data gatherers. Data interpretation, later on, was all done by other people back here in the United States — Joe Chamberlain and a fellow at Cornell whose name I believe was Carl Gartlein.
That does sound familiar. Yes.
He was at Cornell. I’d met him during our training period. I may have met him afterward, but I never got to know him really.
So you were observing for them as the principal investigators.
That’s right. We were the people in the field gathering the data. We set up the equipment the first year, because when I went down, I was among the first group that went down to all these stations at the beginning of IGY. Those programs went on for some time later on.
That’s right. In a way, you described this almost as an epiphany for your life.
Well, it somehow matured me, and I don’t know how.
I can well imagine.
One of the things that Paul Siple did was that each of us gave talks down there on what we were doing, first, and then later on about other things. The mechanic talked about whatever the mechanic did. There were eighteen of us, nine scientists, and nine Navy Seabees. The doctor talked about medicine. The electronics communication guy talked about that. The weather bureau people talked about weather. So we each talked about our own areas.
And I talked about astronomy. One of the things that stick in my mind and life occurred when I got back. My first seminar at Indiana went over poorly, maybe even worse than that. When I came back I gave a seminar. I don’t remember what it was on, and I don’t remember whether it was Frank or John or who said something to the effect, “Wow, what happened?” I don’t remember just what the phraseology was or that they said it directly to me, but the point was that somehow my seminar after I came back was apparently infinitely better than the first one. Many things like that worked out. So it was some sort of a maturing process. I had my twenty-first birthday at the South Pole. Whatever it was, all this combination of things set me apart a little bit, after having been a country lad who had virtually no social graces or interactions or knowledge of what to do. It just was a growing-up process, and the IGY played a huge role in doing it, along with Paul Siple and everyone else.
I mean, it was just absolutely fantastic.
When you took the job, you had every intention of coming back to Indiana? Was this simply a leave?
I think so, yes. I know because I kept contact by ham radio. Fact is, I woke John Irwin up on one or two occasions in the middle of the night in Bloomington with a call from the South Pole on a ham radio. John later said that’s the only kind of call he would have taken in the middle of the night from the South Pole. Otherwise he’d have clobbered me, was the implication. John’s a character, you know.
Were you closest to John Irwin by then?
Real close, perhaps. He sort of took me under his wing early on. Yes.
Now, when you went back, did you plan to use any of the work that you had done during the IGY?
Or it was just back to classes?
It was back to classes. I don’t remember when I started getting my interest in variable stars and eclipsing binaries and things like that, but at some point. But while I think of it, it follows a little bit after I got back, but one of the interesting things that really perhaps pointed me more toward observational astronomy was that when I was there at Indiana, and it probably was after coming back from the Antarctic, Indiana was getting these shipments from the first Palomar prints, and John’s task was to log them in, or at least he looked at each set that came in and made sure they were okay before they’d file them. Every time that a new set came in — I was John’s assistant by then doing calculations and whatever, and every time he got a new set of Palomar prints in, we’d look over them together with magnifying glasses, oohing and aahing over the different things. I’ll never forget that. I try to get the students to do that today with the ESO films. And the new addition of the Palomar Atlas and stuff like that. I still try to get my upper classmen to look at those.
Oh, not as much as I think they ought to. It’s not on a computer, you know.
You were beginning to see things, or see objects or classes of objects that interested you?
Yes, well, I was just interested in whatever I saw in the sky. I’m in some sense a generalist. Except for my standard star work, I’ve never had any really, really strong desire to do any one thing to the nth degree. Probably a problem is that I’m too broadly interested.
But your general field is variables and eclipsing variables.
Well, my general field is standard star work, standard star photometry. My early interests were in eclipsing binaries. That was through John Irwin, because that’s what John was interested in, and that’s where he made his name early on. But as time went on, that didn’t work out in some sense. We’ll talk about that later on.
You must have learned some of the reduction techniques for eclipsing binaries at that time.
I had a course in analysis of light curves from John.
I’m curious. This is an important time. We’re talking ‘57, ‘58, ‘59. Did you have access to high-speed computers?
No, it was Friden calculators.
Friden calculators. What were the techniques that you used for eclipsing binary reduction?
Well, it was the old Russell-Merrill stuff. Russell- Merrill methods were based on the Princeton contributions that John Merrill had done.
How did you find them? Was it something that was fun to do?
Well, I enjoyed doing it.
There was certainly at that time a question of the use of high-speed computers, or the use of more sophisticated techniques, the ones that Kopal [Zdenek] had developed, more numerical techniques using spherical harmonics for reducing eclipsing binary data, but many people stuck to the old methods. I’m wondering if you could give me a sense of the flavor of how one went about making choices as to technique. You were simply using —
Well, we used the Russell-Merrill techniques, and I suppose that was the technique that John grew up on. John knew about Kopal’s work, and I earlier on bought the book. But honestly, my mathematical capabilities never advanced to the point where I could really do a lot of his things.
Yes. That’s very interesting.
That’s why I never advanced into Kopal’s techniques.
Okay. That’s clear enough. You were coming now to the point where you had to start thinking about a thesis and graduation.
Yes. Also, in the late fifties two things happened when I got back from the Antarctic. Bob Kraft was on the faculty at Indiana. Bob was there for certainly one year and maybe two years.
You got back in 1958.
I got back from the Antarctic just at Christmas time in ‘57, and spent Christmas with my parents. Then I went to an AAS meeting at Indianapolis where — I’m not sure if I roomed with John, but I was in the thick of things, because that was the time when John had rediscovered classical Cepheids in open clusters. It was a series of papers at the meeting or invited talks, but I remember being in the same room, in John’s room, with Sandage — I’m pretty sure — Sandage and Kraft, and I’m not sure who else, because that’s when all these papers were coming out in the in the late fifties about Cepheids in clusters. They were all doing — and Harold Johnson — they were all doing photometry of clusters with classical Cepheids in them.
That was quite exciting.
Yes. So I was around when that happened. I met Kraft then. My first research paper was written with Kraft. We were at coffee one day, and I indicated that I would like to do some kind of project, and the project was to take open clusters, lists of open star clusters, together with the general catalog of variable stars — the Kukarkin general catalog of variable stars, and look to see if there were any variable stars in open clusters. At that time there weren’t known to be any. Oh, there may have been a few. This was a sort of follow-on, I guess, of John’s rediscovery of classical Cepheids in open clusters. So what else were there? We looked for eclipsing binaries in open clusters. So my first paper’s 128, as I remember, with Bob. I did that —
ApJ 129. That’s your first paper.
What was the year, 1958?
1959. Okay. So that was with Kraft. I did the searching and Bob wrote the paper. I’m eternally grateful to him for that. He took an interest in helping me get in the literature, my first paper that way, with him. I had written a paper in the PASP, I think, before that maybe, or right around then, talking about something of the IGY and my work down there.
PASP 1958, “Aurora and Air Glow Program at the South Pole.”
That’s right. How did you find Kraft as a teacher and as a colleague?
Well, he was a professor and I was a student then, but Bob was very friendly and interacted well with the students, and the students hung around him. He was very inspiring. He would lecture. The students would call him “Bob the Fog,” because he’d go up and down in front of the classroom, his arms waving, and lecturing, and talking back and forth, writing on the board, and back and forth. I think that’s what it was. I’m not sure that ought to be put down, but I’ve said it now. It’s on tape.
That’s all right.
That’s what my memory says, something like that. Just things coming out, just pouring out. I don’t mean impenetrable or anything negative by that statement.
No. He seemed to be very —
Effervescent. I don’t know what adjectives to use.
He had a wonderful way of explaining the binary systems —
Very dynamic. Yes. Incredible guy.
How long did he stay at Indiana?
Well, he was there for sure one year. He might have been there two years. By the time I got back, he wasn’t there when I went to the Antarctic. By the time I got back from my two years of — not completely solid two years — of duties with IGY, he was gone. So I came back in January ‘58, and I was in and out of Bloomington, depending upon — well, our stuff came back from the Antarctic by ship — our gear and our data. I had to be debriefed in Boston at the Air Force Cambridge Research Center. So that’s where I had some of my briefing before I went down for a few months, and after I got back I had a debriefing there. But while we were waiting for our data to come back, I spent a good part of the spring semester at Indiana listening to Bob, auditing Bob’s classes in galactic structures, I remember it was, and waiting for the ship to bring our data back, then on up to Boston for a while. And then I came back to graduate school, I guess, in the summertime, because it was in the summer — well, that summer of ‘58 is when Bob moved to Yerkes. So I don’t remember. We did our interaction on the eclipsing binaries and clusters. Whether it was done in the spring, started in the spring while I was there, and then we finished in the summer, or I think that’s probably what happened.
One thing I didn’t ask you about. During your IGY wintering over, Sputnik flew.
Oh, yes. That was an interesting time.
What are your memories of that?
Well, I remember that Paul Siple, our leader, immediately started recording the times when we could hear it. We were on twenty-four-hour watch, and we took turns listening to its signals and monitoring when Sputnik came within earshot. I gather, without ever knowing, I don’t know whether Paul told me, but I remember that the authorities in the United States, whoever they were, but Paul was connected into, I suppose, the Navy, but through his long exploration efforts in the Antarctic, and the Navy is involved with the support facilities, but I know that — I remember hearing that those data were of great interest and we shipped them back to the States as soon after the ice broke and people could get back. So we monitored. We monitored, because at that time, I guess, people didn’t know much about it. I remember that people didn’t know much about what we were hearing. They knew there was something in orbit.
When you got back to Indiana, had you noticed any change in the atmosphere of the place in the post-Sputnik era? Was there any increased pressure, increased activity, more people getting interested in astronomy? Was there any kind of change that you could attribute to this important development?
Well, there were more students, but whether it was attributable to Sputnik, I don’t think I’d want to say. I’d have to guess. I don’t remember why they were coming in. There were a few more students. But the astronomy program was gradually growing. Astronomy programs across the country were growing, starting to grow in the late fifties, as I remember.
Yes. You mentioned the AAS meeting at Indianapolis. Was that your first meeting?
I don’t remember if I went to one at the end of ‘55, ‘56 school year or not. My first meeting — we could look in the book here — my first meeting was at Ohio State. So that meeting probably took place before I went to the Antarctic, but we’d have to check to see. My first meeting was at Ohio State. And I remember my first astronomer that I met at a meeting, who took an interest in me as a student, and that was Hugh Johnson. You know Hugh Johnson from — he worked most of his life in industry at Palo Alto, I believe.
Stanford Research Institute?
But someplace in Palo Alto.
Hugh Johnson, though. Hugh Johnson was his name.
As far as I know, he’s still alive. But he sat down and talked with me, or sat by me, or something at the meeting, he was friendly, and we hit off a friendship that’s lasted all these years. I don’t know him really well, but I was impressed, because here was a faculty member, a senior person, who’d sit and talk with a student for whatever reason. I’ve always remembered that. I also remember that meeting because — that might help place it — I remember Martin Schwarzschild getting up and talking about a new solar model, “this year’s solar model.” He said it in the sense of, well, here’s a new model core every year, and this is a new solar model. I believe that was also a meeting when Lyman Spitzer got up and mentioned for the first time a galactic halo, theoretical, I think. I believe that’s what it was. But I remember those two gentlemen’s talks. But the biggest impression of that meeting was Hugh Johnson talking to a student.
What did the professional society, or the idea of a professional society, mean to you at that time?
Meetings and journals, I think, publication of journals and meetings you go to listen to papers and learn what was going on.
Did you have any particular interest in the society itself, getting active in it at that time?
Not that I remember.
Okay. Well, let’s talk about your thesis. How did you choose a thesis and who did you work for?
My thesis was with John Irwin. It was on classical Cepheids in open clusters. The thesis had two parts to it. One was on the Cepheid S Normae in NGC6087, and the other was U Saggittari in M25, which, I think, is IC4725.
Was it Mu Saggittari?
U like in “uncle.”
Yes. U Saggittari. Okay.
U Saggittari in M25. I think it’s IC4725, but I’d have to check that.
These were observational theses where you carried through —
Yes. This was complete reduction in the sense that these were data that John had brought back from South Africa. John had been on sabbatical in South Africa. The year, I guess, must have been 1957, while I was in the Antarctic, I guess. Maybe he got back — I vaguely remember our classes started with him in October of ‘58. So he might have been gone ‘57, ‘58 school year, or the spring or summer ‘58. I don’t remember. Something on that order. I’m not real sure of that. But at any rate, he brought those data back, and the data were all photographic, and they were from the old Victoria refractor there. As I remember they were, anyway, photographic data calibrated by full electric sequences that he had made himself.
Yes. Makes sense. Okay.
And the data were reduced using his photoelectric data sequences and sequence work that Harold Johnson had done, and that Allan Sandage had done.
You graduated in 1962.
I’m wondering if there’s anything about how you went about searching for a job, who helped you, and how you made your decision.
That I don’t really remember. I don’t remember where all I applied. I don’t know if I’ve got any paperwork with that anymore. My memory says there weren’t many jobs, but on the other hand, it may be going back to this business of where the faculty thought that I had capabilities more in a teaching situation. At any rate, I applied for a faculty position at LSU. LSU had a history in astronomy in the sense that some now very well-known people had been on the faculty there prior to my arriving. The first modern-day astronomer that I know was at LSU was Ken Yoss. Ken was there for a few years, I don’t remember just how many, in the middle fifties. Raymond Grenchik did his thesis at Indiana with Marshall Wrubel and went to LSU and, I believe, overlapped with Ken a year or so. Then Ken left and Ray was by himself, and then they hired Pierre Demarque. Pierre was at LSU for certainly one year. It might have been two. I don’t remember how long it was. Pierre left, and then Ray was there by himself for a year, or maybe two, and then I came. I know I was interviewed in the spring of probably ‘61. I didn’t get my thesis finished, which is sort of standard practice, I guess. It didn’t go as fast as I thought it would. But I actually went to LSU in the autumn of ‘62. I went there in the autumn of ‘62. Actually, my thesis wasn’t quite done then yet. Everything was written, but it wasn’t quite printed. I had my oral over Thanksgiving in November of ‘62, something like that. I used to put down my PhD was granted in ‘62, and during the last three or four years I changed it to ‘63, because I actually officially got the degree in June of ‘63, although with exams passed, everything was done by Thanksgiving in ‘62. So I’ve never been real sure what I should put down for when I got my PhD. Because I know I had it in ‘62, but the sheepskin, whatever you call these things, the document itself has June ‘63 stamped on it. So for Who’s Who and American Men and Women in Science, I’ve switched to ‘63 for the date of my degree. [Laughter] I just err on the side of conservatism.
Now, you continued on in your research. I see a lot of UBV observations.
I’ve always done photometry. One other aspect of my existence at Indiana is that the National Centers started in the late fifties. John Irwin was very instrumental in helping get the national centers started, and defining the need for the national centers.
Didn’t he do some of the site surveying?
Later on. That’s another story, the Southern Hemisphere stuff. But not for national centers; that was for the Carnegie Institution of Washington. There were meetings in the fifties — ‘55 or ‘56, thereabouts, maybe it was ‘53, there were meetings, one of which was held in Flagstaff, at which they discussed the need for a national observatory, or at least a center to do observational astronomy in good sight. John was very instrumental in getting that going, and when Kitt Peak was dedicated, he was recognized for his efforts in that, as I remember.
Yes, that’s correct. It was a photoelectric observatory they were trying to get in.
Right. Some of that might appear in Frank Edmondson’s new book which is due out.
But at any rate, I don’t remember if it was Frank or John, but it must have been mostly John. There was a telescope becoming available on Kitt Peak, an old site survey telescope of the late fifties, and I wanted to observe. I was interested in binaries, because John was interested in binaries, and however it worked out, John and Frank, both singly or together, I’m not sure what the mix was, anyway, I got to go to Kitt Peak to observe in the summer of ‘59. I was the first guest investigator at Kitt Peak.
With that site survey telescope.
It was with the site survey telescope. I’d observe by night, sleep in a little trailer off in the brush, the scrub brush, during the daytime, and be awakened throughout the day by the blasts while they were making the foundations for what turned out to be the eighty—four-inch and the thirty-six-inch. So I was the first guest investigator. That was my first real data with photoelectric photometry. John helped me get my program prepared, but my teaching of my doing photoelectric photometry really got started with J.C. Golsen, who was a staff member at Kitt Peak, and most particularly Dave Crawford, who was one of, if not the first astronomer hired at Kitt Peak after the first director arrived.
Aden Meinel. Yes. But Dave Crawford really helped me get going with the observing and understanding more of the observing techniques. I probably ought to go jump back just for one thing. The first night observing at Goethe Link Observatory at Indiana, right after I got on campus as a graduate student in September of ‘55, but before classes started, was with Richard L. Seares. He’s at Michigan. Seares is one of the greatest teachers, lecturers, ever in astronomy. He was a graduate student in those days. But he’s absolutely fabulous. Students still say so, after all these years of teaching.
He’s a name I don’t know too much about.
Yes, but he’s at Michigan.
But he was a good teacher as a graduate student?
Well, he was a graduate student, but he had an observing program going on. So my first night ever on a telescope was with Dick Seares at Goethe Link Observatory at Indiana. I don’t know what influence that ever had, but —
But he was a good teacher in the dome as well as in the classroom, as far as you know.
Yes. As far as I was concerned. He’s turned out to be a theorist. He did his thesis with Marshall Wrubel in theory. But my first night at telescope was with Dick.
That’s an interesting name. That’s a name that hasn’t come up. But he’s at Michigan now?
He’s at Michigan. Yes.
We’re at the end of the second tape, and I want to move on to your developing your program at LSU, but then to spend the rest of the time getting a feeling for your growing involvement in the American Astronomical Society. So we’ll end this tape. This is tape two, side one, with Dr. Arlo Landolt. The date is October 31, 1996. Okay. We have you at now Louisiana State. You were in a two-man department.
It was a combined department of physics and astronomy, but there were two astronomers, Raymond Grenchik and myself.
What was your relationship to the physicists? How was that all worked out?
There were about a dozen people in the department, as I recall, when I went there in September of ‘62. Ray Grenchik and I were two astronomers, and the other ten plus or minus were physicists. We had enough enrollment in the elementary astronomer courses that we were employed full-time teaching only astronomy. Later on, once in a while we’d teach something else, but it was essentially always astronomy, and that’s what I’ve always taught at LSU since then, except one year I taught physical science a time or two. We had primarily freshmen courses. We had one or two more advanced courses. I don’t remember their names now. But it was an operation in what was in those days primarily a teaching department where the astronomy courses were service courses for the general liberal arts student.
What were your plans? Did you plan to change that, to build an astronomy program, to build an observatory?
My interests early on were to build an observatory, and why those plans welled up in me or came to me, I really don’t know. It seems like I had some kind of desire to do things, or to build. I’m not really sure why or from whence those thoughts came, but early on I remember — I don’t remember just what year, but in some of the early years, the first year or two or so at LSU, that I sat down and wrote a proposal to build, to use a telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. I don’t remember exactly where I thought I’d put it, but I knew from some source that there was a telescope in Venezuela, or telescope pieces in Venezuela. It’s the same stuff that Jurgen Stock eventually put into the Merida Observatory. I may well have that original proposal stuck away someplace. My wife would say I do, because I never throw anything away. There was another interesting characteristic to the early LSU career. There was a man there, a young person who really was making his name in, those days, low-temperature physics. He later went on to become quite active nationally. His name was Joseph M. Reynolds. He had just become the chair of the department when I got there. The man who had interviewed me and hired me had gone on — moved on. I don’t remember his name. I sort of remember his face; I don’t remember his name at this point.
Joe was very enthusiastic in research, and was in a great part the reason that the department moved from what was mostly a teaching department, when he was hired four or five years previously, and got a very strong research program going. He sort of got the whole department going in a research mode. There was another fellow there named Richard T. Huggett, who had got his degree at Indiana. When I was still in school, after I’d interviewed, but I was still in school, he’d come back to Indiana to visit some of his old professors. He worked in cosmic rays, and took me out for dinner when he came back to Indiana for a while when I was finishing up, and he got a cosmic ray program going at LSU. So in the early years, the late fifties and early sixties, the two strong research programs, virtually the only research programs, were in low-temperature physics and in cosmic ray physics. In those days, money was starting to become available for grants. A relatively new concept, but it was starting to become effective, and those guys were both funded, and had their programs going. When I somehow, for whatever reason, got interested in these concepts of building an observatory or telescopes and/or wanting to go observe, they, particularly Reynolds, were very supportive, so enthusiastic, in fact, that I remember my first proposal to NSF was so huge in amount, but he encouraged me to put it in. In retrospect, it was foolish to submit such a proposal from a brand-new PhD who had virtually no background or no record. It was absurd. I wouldn’t have funded myself even now, but in those days I didn’t know that. You live and you learn.
Was it turned down?
But you definitely had a supportive environment then, you would say.
A supportive environment, and Joe saw to it that LSU gave me money to go observing, paid my way straight on to Kitt Peak. But soon after Kitt Peak, then also to Cerro Tololo. Tololo was brand new. It depends how you count, but I was one of the very first observers at Tololo, certainly was in the first five, and maybe the first two or three. The first observer at Tololo was John Mathis.
John Mathis. Yes.
He had a student with him. Oh, I see his face. He’s at Indiana now. He’s spent most of his life as an educator. He’s had students, I think, but he’s not been a heavily published researcher.
You were aiming toward what seems like a pretty balanced career in education, in teaching, and research. You never had any sense of giving up one for the other?
No. In part, I couldn’t, but in part, I mean, I realized that I wanted to continue doing observing. I think I probably realized pretty early on that there were no great brains, or no great ideas or thoughts going to come out of my body, but I loved to observe and I was pretty good at it; it turned out I was pretty good at it, so I pushed that. It’s sort of like the teaching provided the basis for a livelihood and allowed me to do some observing and research in that mode.
You became director of the LSU Observatory, it’s called, in 1970. By then you’d advanced to professor.
Yes, I became a professor in ‘68, I think.
In ‘68. That’s right. You have what seems like a pretty normal advancement. I’d like to know whether you had standard hurdles of “publish or perish,” and were there performance reviews and tenure review and that sort of thing?
I honestly don’t know whether they sent out letters for letters of reference or not in those days. We were starting it in the late sixties, but how much of that they did for me, I really don’t know.
But as far as you know, your advancement was quite steady and there were no —
It was quite steady. But you see, everything was in growth mode in those days, and I was active, very active, around the department, and in trying to get things, help build things up around the department in the university. For reasons I don’t know, maybe it’s the old work ethic from back home on the farm, but I pushed very hard. In those days, these were the days of the Science Development Departments, Dave.
The science what?
The Science Development Departments around the country. Remember NSF gave money to a selected group of institutions to develop their science capabilities. These are sort of the second-tier universities, or whatever adjectives were applied in those days. There were four departments at LSU so selected: mathematics, chemistry, geology, and physics and astronomy. I don’t believe they had any strong aim to really increase astronomy. I don’t think they had anything negative against it, but I don’t know that they had a strong desire to make astronomy a big part of the department, and physics, too. But for instance, we had monies that we never had access to before, for developing various things. We had money for the library. I remember that the physicists were interested in increasing their quality of their library holdings, but I don’t remember anyone explicitly working hard on it. But we had this money, and I pushed very hard and worked to enhance the library in astronomy. We made it a very good library. My first year there, the librarians had a reception for all of the new faculty on campus. There were only a few of us, literally, only a few of us came. But I made contacts then with the library people, and went back with my interest in having to check in stuff at the library at Indiana and that sort of thing, so I got interactive with the library and to this very day. And astronomy and physics has at some unknown level benefitted from that, just because I knew the people, and I talked with them and worked with them. I wrote around the world trying to get stuff free to enhance our observatory collection in the library. It’s this sort of thing, this sort of interaction —
That’s very important.
I forget what the term is now, but working with the different people, different levels of the university, I did that from early on, for whatever reason.
Networking. That’s the word. And it really has paid off.
There’s nothing like a major library to make research possible. Did you build up the number of astronomers there? Did you add to the courses?
We really started adding a number of astronomers right along in there, too, in the sixties, with the Science Development money. So I was heavily involved in hiring the next group of astronomers, Raymond Grenchik and myself. I can’t remember exactly the order in which we hired people. Some people, three or four people we hired moved in and out of the system for various reasons of not meeting the tenure requirements and that sort of thing.
Did you have “publish or perish” pretty much?
I suppose, but I don’t know that it was quite spelled out that way, but certainly people who were working hard at getting stuff out were advancing.
When did you begin planning the LSU Observatory, and how did you gain support for that and design it?
I never really thought much about it, but Joe Reynolds and I must have discussed it thoroughly. Also, I became aware of the Whitford Report. The Whitford Report had in it something related to the desirability of having some one-meter telescopes around the country. I had written up something about the desirability of this observatory with this equipment in Venezuela. I really don’t remember anymore where I thought to put that stuff.
Those are big telescopes.
Yes. But nevertheless, here were these one-meter telescopes, and there was some hint or indication that one — I don’t remember if the NSF was talking about making money available on a matching basis. Whatever it is, I had some experience of writing down my thoughts for a telescope and observatory, and that was turned into a proposal to NSF, with backing from LSU, and with support from Joe Reynolds, maybe the dean then, I don’t remember. But whatever it was, Joe must have been one of the strong supporters. Anyway, I got the proposal written, and I remember coming to Washington and meeting with people at NSF. The guy then at that time would have been Gerald Mulders.
Yes, he was here.
And he understood what a proposal like that needed and involved, and how to use matching funds. We got going on the telescope. We put it in Louisiana because the state matching funds could be used only for projects within the state.
Oh, so you did have state funding for it.
Yes, that was matching funding. Yes. Roughly. Now, I don’t know if it was fifty-fifty.
That could be important. Did you have to convince the state legislature?
We had to have a special vote from the state legislature to do it, as I remember. They were out, not in session, so they had to vote. Again, that’s how I got my first contacts with the then-president or chancellor — I guess he was called president then, because our university governing system changed someplace in the late sixties, early seventies. But I got to meet those people and some of the lower-level people who later became the top campus people.
Would you say this was the largest, or one of the larger single purchases, or single developmental purchases for the physics-astronomy department at that time?
At that time it probably was.
Because there were no accelerators or —
— even cosmic ray physics wasn’t that huge at that time.
Well, they had good funding. They had big funding, but they didn’t have any equipment on site. They had data reduction or analysis equipment. They had dark rooms and microscopes and whatever they used. They were involved in something, building something out in Colorado, and there was an LSU presence in Colorado. I’m not sure what mountain it was on. It might have been up on Climax or near Climax. I don’t remember. I think it was.
Yes, there were a number of major cosmic ray facilities in the Climax area from Chicago in their consortia at that time. By this time you had already become active in the American Astronomical Society, especially, you note here, as of 1964 you were a member of the Society’s Visiting Professor Program. Could you describe your growing involvement in the society and how you elected to get involved in the Visiting Professor Program?
Probably I got involved with that because Ray Grenchik was involved. Ray did some lecturing early on, I believe. I don’t know how else I would have heard about it or known about it, except maybe reading and whatever we got from the AAS. That I don’t remember. I’ve always been interested in travel, seeing new institutions, seeing what goes on in other places. I had at some point, and I don’t remember when and how it developed, some interest in administration. I don’t remember it I had heard from Edmondson or Irwin or others about the Shapley Lecture Program, for instance. I don’t remember just how it started. But again, it was a way of growing and doing things. I had a lot of energy, I guess, and was interested in trying different things.
How far afield did you go, or did you concentrate on the southern states?
Oh, I’d go wherever they’d send me. Over the years I’ve gone in — in the early years, in the sixties, for instance, I don’t remember where I went first, but I went out in ‘68. I know I was in Idaho, and I was in Utah and Idaho, for instance. I went to Weber State. That’s in Utah, isn’t it?
Any particularly interesting stories or vignettes? Because now I’m searching for things that might be interesting in the essay. In the visiting professor program, did you have any particular surprises or particularly memorable experiences? Did you meet students who later went on to become astronomers themselves?
Offhand, I can’t think of anything really outstanding from the program. I’ve always enjoyed meeting people and talking with them, but I really can’t say anything explicit about that. I’ve been very impressed about the really good equipment some schools have that came from the schools. I’ve been impressed by the incredible poorness of some schools, incredibly poor libraries that some of them have, even at places where you’d think there’d be more — that sort of thing.
What was your role as a visiting professor? How many lectures would you give and what would they be about?
It depends where I’d go, but I would tend to talk about anything anybody wanted me to talk about. It would vary a great deal from place to place, but some places I’d give four or five lectures, more than one, whatever the rules and regulations prescribed. I’d always give a public lecture. I’d sometimes talked about stellar illusion in general terms. I’d use the slides which one could get as illustrations. I’d talk about the moon. I’d talk about comets, whatever — I’d talk about galaxies, the distance scale, in general terms like I would teach, like I would talk to my astronomy course students, astronomy for liberal arts students. I would talk with administrators if they wanted me to, and I always tried to get to do that to build up the interest in astronomy and build up interest in their libraries, and in computing, and whatever I thought I could to help generate excitement in the physical sciences. Depending on what I could learn or knew about the faculty, I would try to build up the faculty in the eyes of their administrators if there was a sort of a ready-made way to do that, again, to try to help out the physical sciences.
In your vita here, you say you began in 1964, and then just “dot.” Are you still in that program?
Still in it. I don’t go out and lecture every year, but I’m —
You’ve been in it thirty years.
Yes. I don’t remember. Dave Phillip has got records on who, when, where, and he’s trying to update those. His records don’t seem to indicate that I’ve been as many places as I thought I’ve been over the years. But it would be an awful lot of work to go through my records to reconstruct my participation. I’ve got folders, mind you, but I don’t know that I’ll ever do that. Too many other things to do.
Would you think that this program would be part of what you would want to talk about in your relationship to the society, or why you think the society’s important?
Probably it’s something I ought to mention. I mean, it’s a good thought that you bring that up. It’s been very interesting to me. I hope I’ve done some good by going out and visiting, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about institutions of higher education this way. I can’t tell you exactly A, B, C what it was I’ve learned, but somehow subconsciously you bring back thoughts and ideas you try to integrate in your own school, or see things you might try to improve things at LSU, or tell administrators, “Oh, I saw this, that, and the other.” It’s a very broadening, educational, useful set of experiences for me going out, as well as hopefully getting students interested in astronomy, and tell them about what you can do with a degree or with courses in astronomy and physics and mathematics. I don’t mean just being a professional astronomer or physicist.
You said that Dave Phillip was compiling a list.
Dave is trying to put in his computer a list of all the people who have been to which places throughout the history of the Shapley Program.
Who managed the Shapley Program over most of its time, or were there many different people?
Well, let’s see. Early on it was the executive officer. I’m pretty sure Hank Gurin did it, for instance. Larry Frederick may have done it. But once we had education officers in the Society, I believe it was one of the education officer’s tasks. At some point in the last six years when I was no longer secretary, and maybe only two or three years ago, Mary Kay Hemenway, who’s the current education officer, stopped doing the Shapley work, and Dave Phillip picked it up.
So he’s been running it.
If you decide to write about the visiting professor program, would you communicate with Dave and maybe some of the others and fill in the history using them — if you get material from them you can simply cite them, that sort of thing? That might be one of the things that you might talk about. Your essay could take on your sense of the significance of the society in promoting the health of astronomy, so to speak. So that might be one very important element that you could write about, because you’ve been a thirty-year member of the program. I doubt if there have been many people who have been in it for that amount of time. That’s a possibility?
Yes. Sure. It’s a good thought. Yes.
How would you typify your relationship to the Society? Did you start by becoming a loyal attendee? You said you like to travel. So did you try to get to every meeting?
I tried to go to a lot of the meetings. I really don’t remember how many I went to. But again, I don’t know whether I liked to be part of these things or what it was. I’ve been to all the IAU meetings. I’ve only missed a couple IAU meetings in my life, since the one at Berkeley in ‘61, and by then there was some formula, X percentage of the graduate students in each department were given invitations. I think Indiana had two and a fraction. So I believe we were allowed to send three people out. I don’t remember who they were. When I went to the IAU meeting in Berkeley, I was curious, listening, going around to all these — like a kid in a candy shop, going around to all these different commission meetings and listening to people talk. I was interested in the people and I’ve always liked to watch the people, the people who are perceived as the leaders, and listen to them.
But at some point along the time you became a senior professor, and certainly by 1964, you were thinking, I would imagine, about astronomy as a whole, and its health as a discipline. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about that and the role of the Society in the health of the discipline.
I remember, it was in the late fifties, I guess. It must have been around the time I got back from the Antarctic, because John put me up for membership in the RAS. I don’t remember when I joined the AAS. It must have been around the same time. But I remember John, and maybe Frank, saying something about the responsibility that astronomers had to their societies in being members. I remember Frank, or John — I don’t remember which one it was, probably John — saying something about the importance of being a member of the Society. I don’t recall any other phrases that might go with that, just they said what one should do. But the point was being a member of these organizations was an important aspect of an astronomer’s life, and I’ve taken that seriously at all levels with AAS and the IAU, and with the AAAS, because I was involved as an official in AAAS before I was in AAS. I was the secretary of the Section D of the AAAS in the seventies.
That’s right. From ‘70 to ‘78.
I don’t remember how I got involved with that, but I think it was probably through Frank Bradshaw Wood, but I’m not completely sure of that. Brad might have been my predecessor as secretary there. Some of these things come up in conversations at meetings, and I don’t remember anymore just where or how my interest was evidenced.
That was not an elected office?
Yes, it was. I think it was.
What were your responsibilities as secretary of Section D?
Finding people interested in putting together sessions at the AAAS meeting, as I remember; finding people to serve on the committees, as I remember, on the Section Committee, identifying people. I honestly don’t remember anymore what else was involved. There wasn’t a huge amount of work, but it was my first interaction with people in the general astronomy community, where I would call you up and ask you if you’d be interested in being involved with something like that.
Did you see any competition or redundancy between Section D and the AAS?
I don’t think I really understood enough of the hierarchy of astronomy as a professional organization at that point to think too much about it. I realized that the Section D was only a small entity as opposed to the AAS, which was really the professional organization for astronomers, and that Section D’s responsibility was to put some astronomy into the AAAS annual meetings and provide a broadening of astronomical experiences of the general public. One of the aspects of Section D meetings was that you wanted them to be scientifically accurate, but you didn’t want them to be at such a depth that the people who’d probably attend wouldn’t understand the papers, because you have a big part of the audience from other disciplines and from the public. You may have some astronomers, but astronomers don’t tend to go to the AAAS. They didn’t then either. So you wanted to have good, interesting, up-to-date, attention-grabbing sessions, but you didn’t want them at too great a depth. Like the talks of the AAS meeting, for instance, where the general public wouldn’t get much from them. So it was that sort of an aspect of it that we focused on.
Was there any connection between the AAAS and the AAS at that time that you know of? Because historically, the AAS used to meet periodically with the AAAS Section D. Some famous meetings, like the one in Atlanta in 1913 and ‘14.
Yes. I went to the one in New York City, because I took my then-kid sister along. I think it was in December of ‘58. I won’t swear to that, but that was an interesting one, too. That meeting was interesting because that led to my meeting Bob Fleisher, which led to my eventual work at NSF as a program rotator twenty years down the road.
That’s an interesting connection, also an interesting memory. It seems like meetings have various important purposes.
Networking. Meeting people. I don’t know what — different people do it different ways, but I never went into any of this sort of thing with saying, “I have to meet Dave DeVorkin because I want to somehow in the future have something come from that.” To me it just sort of flowed, and it’s been rather direction less, from my point of view. But you meet a lot of people later on. I’ve met a lot of people in my observing career on mountains, people who were students, and they’ve worked themselves up to quality individuals, scientists, and humans, and now I know I’ve met these people, and it’s natural to turn to them to put them in various places in the hierarchy of astronomy now and the business of astronomy. In some sense it happened to me without my knowing it, but I sort of know a bit more now what I’m doing, although I do some of this subconsciously, too. So it’s this networking business which flows through life. Meetings are exceedingly important. Broad meetings are exceedingly important. I think they’re more important for the overall health of the science, probably, than going to a symposium on topic X where it’s very focused. But going to AAAS, which is exceedingly broad, and going to the AAS meetings, which some people say are too broad, or the IAU meeting, which some people turned their noses up at because they say, “You know, I don’t do most of this kind of work. I don’t want to go to that stuff.” But they miss out chances of networking and meeting a lot of interesting people, and some day down the road, you and they may have something in common, and you’ve met them.
This networking theme is a very interesting one to explore, especially for the purposes of the centennial book. I would like to suggest that your experience in the Society also shows it to have been a vehicle for maintaining the health of the discipline through how people meet each other. As you say, meeting people is not premeditated. It’s a social function. It is important to have broadly based meetings rather than very focused meetings where people are talking about special problems. At least there’s a place for the broadly based meeting. If you have feelings about that, your essay can range freely in those directions, based upon experiences you’ve had. Your meeting with Bob Fleisher is a good one. Your secretaryship of Section D of the AAAS as a preamble to your secretaryship of the AAS might be a very interesting element to explore. Maybe I’d like to explore that one now as soon as you’re finished taking your notes. Because as I see now, yes, you were secretary of the AAAS Section D, from ‘70 to ‘78, and then of the AAS from ‘80 to ‘89, and again in ‘95. Any connection between these two secretaryships?
You know, I don’t know why, I really can’t say exactly why I got interested in being the secretary except that it’s a way of interacting with people. Another part of it may be that I don’t know that people are literally beating down the doors to be secretaries. It’s not as prestigious as being an officer or something like that.
Right. It’s a very different type of job.
Yes. But it’s something that if one is interested in being involved with people, and you are interested in doing that sort of work, or don’t mind doing it, it’s a way to become involved. The community, by and large, is very happy to let you do it.
Just as long as you’re good at it.
Yes. I really don’t remember for AAAS, but it may have been via Brad Wood. I met Brad through eclipsing binary stuff in the early days in the IAU. I just don’t remember how. I don’t remember whether I said something to somebody I was interested in it. I just don’t remember how that happened anymore. I’m not sure I could ever go back and reconstruct it. Brad might know, if indeed he’s the one.
What about the AAS then?
The AAS, somewhere along the line I got it from Larry Frederick. I vaguely remember some meeting that we were talking, and how or why, I knew that his term was ending up or what, I don’t know, but I mentioned an interest, “That might be something interesting some day.” That was a seed, and how it grew after that, I don’t know. But I don’t remember who called me or contacted me or how it happened after that. I don’t know why I was chosen, because again, I had no history except that I had been by then secretary of Section D for eight years, and I did get to meet a lot of people that way, because I helped put together a variety of meetings or called people and convinced them or asked them if they would do it. I got a few people that way.
My most memorable meeting, by the way, or interaction of this type, was one in San Francisco in ‘72 or thereabouts, whenever the first Mercury probe was sending data back. But that was a meeting where we had a session on Velikovsky, the Worlds in Collision guy. I don’t remember who were involved, but I remember that there was a reception of some sort that Ivan King had at his home, and I’m pretty sure that Velikovsky was there. We all went down to see that. I was also memorably sick that meeting — that trip. But at any rate, it was an absolutely fantastic thing. I remember Velikovsky standing on the stage. We had somebody come in from Switzerland, I believe, as one of the panelists who made some comments about archaeology or history or something like that. I remember Velikovsky saying, “But can you read Sumerian? Can you read Sumerian?”
How did the astronomers react to Velikovsky generally? Because there was a tremendous reaction against him in the session.
The ideal was that we should give him a platform and try to be appropriately attentive. I remember the phrases we had. We wanted to give him the dignity of being able to have his say, and we wanted to refute as best we could what needed to be down played or refuted, but we didn’t want to be so confrontational as to make our differences into some big controversy. We wanted to put a lid on these sorts of inaccuracies or misinterpretations. I suppose misinterpret is a better verb than squelch. We wanted not to let the session get out of hand, but let him have the dignity of a scholar of some sort. I mean, did you ever read his books?
There are three or four of those books. I remember Worlds in Collision was the first science book I ever bought as a youngster at home on the farm when it first came out not knowing anything better, Worlds in Collision could be purchased through the Sunday newspaper by ads or something. I’m not sure if it was Parade Magazine or whatever it was in those days, it came out in the St. Louis Globe Democrat Sunday paper in the forties, or whenever it first came out.
That’s very significant.
I bought the Worlds in Collision, Earth in Upheaval, and whatever other two or three books there were. I may still have them. I’m not sure.
Were these influential on you?
Well, they were influential, Dave, in the sense that I’m curious about these things. I don’t have a deep understanding of a lot of this stuff, but I’m curious about all of these things. I’m curious everything from A to Z in a sense. I don’t have any great expertise in any of them, but it’s a curiosity I’ve had. There’s just no way you can ever get all the stuff read that you want to read.
Did you ever use Velikovsky or Von Danikan or any of such authors in your classes to set up examples of claims they made to ask the students to try to work through them logically to see if they made any sense?
Oh, I’ve referenced, I’ve talked about them sort of in passing, but never in the depths that you suggest.
What about in your visiting professor program, did you find that people were similarly asking you questions about Velikovsky or Von Danikan?
Not in recent years. A long time ago they may have, but not in recent years. You get questions once in a while of a more astrological nature of the Von Danikan sort of thing or the Bermuda Triangle or something like that on occasion, but you don’t get too much of it.
Do you think that the Society is an important platform or vehicle for testing and airing these fringe ideas and theories?
I’m not sure AAS has done that, but AAS back in those times really did a lot.
So was this AAAS?
This was AAAS.
This was a AAAS meeting in San Francisco.
Okay. I’m making sure I write that down. Yes, that makes more sense.
Yes. It’s AAAS.
I was a little surprised.
No. It wasn’t AAS, it was AAAS.
And you were secretary of Section D at that time?
At that time. Yes. I helped arrange the meeting.
You helped arrange the meeting? Who actually had the idea to invite Velikovsky?
I don’t remember.
Was it an astronomer?
I’m pretty sure it was. Ivan King was involved at some level, because we went to his home for a reception.
That’s quite interesting.
My old notes might show it.
Okay. Well, you can always refer to them.
If I can find them.
Well, you say you don’t throw anything away.
Yes, I know, but that’s part of the problem.
That’s the historian’s dream.
No, my intent is to leave my stuff to the LSU Archives.
Perfect. You’re a historian’s dream. I’m delighted to hear that. Okay. I’m going to turn the tape over once again, and I want to talk about your years as secretary of the AAS, because those were important years, when the Society made its move here. I’d like to know how that affected the position of secretary. So let’s talk about your years as secretary. Again, this was an elected office, was it not?
Do you remember whom you ran against?
Oh, that’s one thing. I’ve never had any trouble winning any election because we never run against anybody. Secretary and treasurer are sort of pre-selected, if you will. It says so effectively in the by-laws and constitution. The reason is because the individual has to make arrangements with his or her administration to make sure you’re going to have the support for the time it takes, and it can take a lot of time.
Did you get clerical support? Did you get a lighter teaching load?
In effect, what I got from LSU was the right to do the work. LSU gave me an office free; they effectively set up an office for me. There was $5,000 or $6,000 worth of furniture and stuff that they effectively gave to me to set up the office. The deal always has been that the Society pays — gave me a secretary and paid her salary, and they paid the telephone bills and the postage, whatever it takes to run an office. I’ve always kept that down as low as I could. LSU provided the rooms and the space rent-free, and didn’t charge us any indirect costs for handling the secretary’s office, monies which I used to run the office and that sort of thing. I did not get a decrease in teaching load, because all of us in our department, then and now, who are heavily involved in research administration teach one course a semester. So my teaching load couldn’t have been made any lighter. So in effect, being an AAS secretary was an added task. What I did do was that I did cut down, to some extent, on committee work within the university and the department. They, on occasion, put me on dean search committees or chancellor search committees or things like that. But I didn’t do a lot of the everyday running of the university committees, although I was faculty Senate president for a while.
Now, in 1980, I know that they were searching for a replacement for, was it Harold Gurin?
Peter Boyce became executive officer in ‘79, plus or minus a year. I know it was before ‘80. Whether it was ‘78 or not, I’m not so sure. Right around ‘79.
Yes. ‘79 sounds right. Was the office already in Washington, D.C., when you became secretary?
Yes. Peter was in IAU, was it?
Yes, or ran an office in NSF.
No. Peter and I met at NSF when I was a rotator and he was there. But Peter’s office as executive officer was in a one- or two-room area, a part of the AUI office suite on Massachusetts Avenue. Bob Hughes was, I believe, the head of AUI then. He had been at NSF the head of the next layer up from the astronomy division when I worked at NSF, or he was there part of the time.
You were then the first secretary to come in when the Society moved to Washington.
How did you see the role of secretary vis-a-vis the very heightened activity of the executive office? Did you see a change in the role of the secretary?
Larry Frederick still did all the paper sorting and putting the meeting together. By the time I became secretary, that went to the executive office. So I never had to do in Baton Rouge, for instance, what we just did here yesterday, sort papers and put the meeting together. That was probably the major change that I can think of, without prompting or giving more thought.
So what were the duties that you did?
The minutes, draft minutes and final minutes, draft agenda and final agenda, and then and now, I put them together, write down what I think will be on each agenda item and put them together, then I interact with the president and with the executive officer by telephone. Now we do it by fax or phone or E-mail or all three, and iterate until we get a final agenda. I do the same thing with the draft minutes. We tape record the minutes and they’re transcribed by my secretary in Baton Rouge, and then I take what she transcribes, plus my notes, which I take while the meeting’s going on, and I pull together a preliminary draft which goes out to the counselors and officers for their review. Then I fold in their comments if they jibe. If they don’t jibe with what’s on the tape recorder or my notes, I don’t use them, after I tell them. We put the final minutes together then. I’m in charge of all the committee stuff. I’m chair of the Committee on Committees, Committee on Appointments. I make sure that that’s all up to date. T
hen I respond to daily inquiries and that sort of thing. But most of that’s taken care of by the executive office now. In some ways it’s amazing that those things keep me as busy as they do — did then and are doing now, trying to keep track of the history of what’s going on, of how different prizes are operated under what guises, for instance. Members’ interests go in cycles of several years. They want to know why we must adhere to this thirty-five-year age limit for the Warner-Pierce Prizes. You have to be less than thirty-five years of age. Why must that be? They think it’s not correct, it’s unjust to a certain subset of our membership. So I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to go back through the files to try and reconstruct the reasons. You can, in effect, write papers on them, which in the past, in the eighties, when something like this came up, I’d look through files and keep on moving without writing decisions down. Now, I’m going to try to make a bit more of a sheet or two of paper trying to detail chronologically what happened and when. But it’s turning out to be a lot of work.
I’d like to interject at this point that could also be very valuable for the centennial book. No one at this point is writing on the prizes — how the various prizes began, emerged, and what their criteria are, and why they are that way. I might suggest as another aspect of your essay, you may want to talk about the prizes. If you have these files and these materials, going back to when they began, I can say that I know one prize very well, and I’ve written about it — I have a draft — in my biography of Henry Norris Russell. It’s the Russell Lectureship. That’s quite an interesting story, because it was a Shapley campaign to develop the Russell lectureship, and it was kind of funny in some places. Some people got quite upset at his strong- arm tactics in the l940s for setting it up, but it was a typical Shapley operation. But it revealed a lot about how the community was structured, because there were a number of people, like W.H. Wright, who refused to contribute to the campaign not because of any feelings about Russell, but because of the nature of the campaign. Wright sent Russell a long letter that lined the whole thing out, and Shapley, of course, reacted to that. Nevertheless, the lecture prize was established, and has been the longest running prize in the Society’s history. But its origins are very interesting, very unusual. Shapley also set it up to highlight not only his own teacher, but a special meeting where eclipsing binary work was being discussed and debated between the Kopal method and the Russell method, and this was 1948. I’m not going to transcribe any of this stuff, but I’m just letting you know, it’s quite an interesting history. Many of the other histories or bequests, primarily bequests, but some of them were campaigns, and some of them have different stipulations, and you don’t have to do all the prizes, but if there were some that you feel need some explanation, the centennial book could act as a reference in the future that would stand as a guide.
Transcribe as much as you think might be useful to help tickle my memory on this idea and concept. The materials aren’t all in my office anymore. And unknown parts of them are at the AIP Archives, and that stuff’s not in an organized fashion, as far as I know. I’m in the process of trying to put together some things for the council on the Warren-Pierce Prize business. I’ve got pieces of it. To do this right, what I’m trying to do is — I mean, I’m fighting for time. I know a way I’d approach it, a way I’d do it, to my mind of doing it properly. I probably don’t have time to do it within the framework of when you need the materials, and what I know I’ve got to do between now and then. My life is very solidly lined up at the moment until the middle of January, although I’ll try to do something on a draft for my essay. But trying to mesh these things and give you the data, I mean, I’m approaching these things like I do my observing efforts, and I know what I want to do when, where, and where I need to dig. A lot of the Warner stuff is in J.J. Nassau’s Archives at Case. I was trying to find out about this thirty-five-year business, and I got hints of it in some minutes, but the minutes I have in Baton Rouge aren’t complete. So I talked to Frank Edmondson, and I talked to Larry Frederick, and I talked to Harold Weaver, what their memories said about this, and Frank was the one who reminded me that Peter Pesch at Case could perhaps help with Nassau’s stuff. So I talked to Peter and Peter talked to an archivist, and I got a bit of the information on Nassau’s stuff. But there’s some other things that I still need. For instance, we’ve been calling it the Helen B. Warner Prize for these years, but some of the old Nassau files call it S. Warner, and I still don’t know for sure which is right, whether Nassau’s notes were right in some of the old minutes, or whether we are right in using Helen B. Warner. I don’t know what that middle initial is. I mean, it’s not terribly important, but for historical accuracy it is. I need to get back in those files there, or find out something more from them. I haven’t had time to do that.
This would be at the Nassau files.
This would be in the Nassau Archives. I don’t know how extensive Nassau’s stuff is, but if you ever need a section of old AAS history, it’s in Nassau’s files at Case.
That’s very important to know.
Also, you know, Frank’s put all his stuff in the Lilly Library at Indiana. I haven’t any idea how organized any of that stuff is. Although, I must say, it didn’t take the person at the Case Library very long. She was very helpful, and she Xeroxed out of Nassau’s stuff two or three pages of old AAS minutes he had where the word Warner appeared. So I don’t know if there’s anything else there or not. I mean, one would have to sit down there and look.
Have you ever looked through the AIP files?
I’ve only been at the new place once since they’ve been there, and since I was again going back on the AIP board, and once there during a break I went up there and they got something out for me, in a couple of big boxes with stuff in it. So, no, I haven’t dug.
They have organized them to some extent, and the files are reasonably easy to use, but it would take you a while to go through them.
I’d like to do it, but I just literally don’t have the time now. It’d be fun to do it.
It would be valuable for the book if we had a way to describe all of the different prizes. If I’m able to get over there, and again, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, but I live here, or if I can find someone who is willing to do that, we would try to feed that information to you.
All right. Yes, I’d be glad to try to work some of that in.
Okay. So that could be another area. If you actually do get a pretty good story about the Warner, that could be part of the essay. Then that would be on the public record, the Warner Prize and some of the others. I’m not talking about the division prizes, but the ones that are society wide.
We’ve got the Cannon Award, and the Cannon Award is in focus, again, in the AAS, too, because you know the Cannon Award was given to the AUW some years ago when Margaret Burbich turned it down, and then there was a big controversy, and all that. I’ve had to look into that a little bit again, too, because there’ve been some regulation changes that some people want, and that’s starting to stir a little bit of interest in some of the older stuff, and I’m looking at that a little bit, too. I’ve got a folder on that, but I might be able to build some of that up, too.
Yes. That would be interesting. Okay. During your tenure as secretary, how do you feel the Society changed as the executive office moved to Washington? Do you think there was an effect on the Society as a whole?
I think one of the really strong aspects in this society are the meetings. When Peter became executive officer and started moving more strongly and putting the meetings together, that was good for the AAS. I’m not implying that Larry didn’t do a good job. He did what was needed then. But Peter has taken the meetings and developed them into what we know today, complete with invited talks and the general overall format we have of posters. I think the poster idea, Poster Sessions, is excellent.
So to make it clear, before Peter took over, the previous executive officers did not organize the meetings.
It was the secretaries that did the organizing.
Yes, I’m 99 percent sure that’s right.
Okay, that’s a major change. So it would be the question of when the Poster Sessions started.
Yes, and Larry, I’m sure, would know that answer. Peter might, but Larry, I’m pretty sure, would know.
What about the Public Session, Public Policy Sessions, all of those sorts of things?
I don’t know who instituted the idea of Public Policy Sessions. We have them almost every meeting now. It certainly has a strong role. The astronomy community seems to take interest in that sort of thing. For whatever reason, we’ve had a good rapport with many people in the public arena, so they’re willing to come and talk with us, and we get established people, senior people like Neil Layne [phonetic] and other people in NASA, and we had Dan Quayle talk to us once here.
So there are contacts. It may well be because we are astronomy, and astronomy is more interesting, perhaps, than botany or some other area to the general public.
The astronomers have to be pro-active in order to bring these people in. They just don’t show up automatically.
Yes. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that we’ve had a Public Policy Committee in the Society for years, the Council Committee, and that committee comes and goes in what it really does. It must be self-evident in some sense, but on the other hand, I guess I wouldn’t write it out. It comes and goes depending on the people who are involved. There are some well-known people who are on the committee or chair it who don’t do a damn thing, and some do. A lot of what you see in the Society, the committee structure in the Society, it really is a function of who is the chair of the committee, which is no new revelation. But right now we’ve got people, we’ve got a person who’s very, very energetic in employment, for instance. We’ve always had an Employment Committee for years, and people weren’t interested in it, but right now Ed Guinan is really serious about this employment issue, and he pushes hard on it. He’s at Villanova.
He’s been particularly active?
He’s been working his tail off with the employment business. And the same thing in the Committee on Status of Women. We’ve had a series of good people involved there, but Deborah Elmegren at Vassar has been extremely effective with the Committee on Status of Women the last several years, and getting the electronic newsletter for the women up. There are people like that who are really, really effective when they are chairing a committee.
We’re having Susan Simkin write a history of the Committee on the Status of Women for the centennial book.
I know Susan. I don’t know her real well, but I’ve known her for a long time.
That was with Deborah Elmegren’s approval.
Good. Susan’s older and so should know the earlier parts.
She’d been in the beginning.
That was the idea. So we’re trying to identify these critical parts of the society that should be recorded at its centennial. These parts make the Society what it is; they help to make it a vital element in the health of the discipline. You’re talking about networking brings up a very interesting global question about the Society as a whole, its internal health. These other committees promote both internal health and external support for it, too. During your ‘80 to ‘89 period, what do you feel was the most important thing the Society did to sustain its health or its growth, especially if there’s something you’d like to write about during that period?
At this instant, my mind’s sort of blank. The Society continued to grow through that period. It was really a period of pretty rapid growth in membership. I would suppose it must have nearly doubled, but I’m not sure of that.
But there were some very difficult problems. There were job crunches, funding wasn’t too stable.
Well, job crunches in the sense that council was interested in trying to push people out into smaller colleges, and the community colleges, wherever there were jobs, increase astronomy’s presence in less than traditional colleges and universities. I remember they tried to do that.
But wasn’t there a time under Bok — maybe that was just before you became —
The main thing I remember about Bart was that he worked very strongly against astrology and that way of thinking. I don’t remember if creationism had any part to play in there. But there must have been something going on back in Bart’s time when he was very strong on this astrology business, but that was before I was involved.
At some point around there, and I thought it was around ‘80, maybe it was earlier, the Society deliberated over limiting the number of graduate students, in trying to get Departments of Astronomy to voluntarily limit the number of their graduate students to the suspected number of positions that would be available.
I remember such discussions, but I don’t believe the Society ever had any success in any of that. I don’t think anyone listened.
My impression was that there were two or three universities that refused, but others seemed to be sympathetic. Texas, and UCLA, I remember, did not.
Texas never did. I’m not sure Arizona did, either, but certainly Texas did not. There were huge numbers of students.
That’s correct. I’m wondering, you had no role in this? What was your feeling about it?
It’s always been a mixed feeling, and the kind of feeling that we’ve had in our department, for instance, has always been one that we be as accurate and as open with the students as we can, but to give the students training if they really wanted it, the thought being that someone well trained in math and physics, and now computer science, and astronomy, astronomy uses all those tools, if they were well trained, they could go out in the world and find work. You’d tell them the chances are you’re not going into academia. But if you take this broad training, you can go into all sorts of areas such as imaging, or computing, or software writing, or doing statistical analyses for Wall Street, or whatever, you’ve got these broad possibilities if you’re broadly trained. I just came from an AIP meeting here, and an AIP corporate associates meeting, which is held every October with industry, and we heard the same thing from industry. We want people broadly trained rather than narrowly trained.
That means broadly trained in physics and mathematics and —
And computer science, and they’re saying, in foreign languages. Schlumberger wants their people capable of knowing foreign languages.
Who is that?
Schlumberger does wire line logging in oil wells and stuff like that. It’s a multi-billion dollar company. I asked during the panel discussion what our graduate schools were not providing, what training they were not providing students that industry needed. We had representatives from General Motors, head of Air Research, head of Xerox, head of Schlumberger, and head of NEC, the NEC Japanese company here in the United States. The Schlumberger man came up to me later on and said, “Foreign languages. Tell your law professor colleagues that we want their students to know something about the physical sciences.”
That’s very interesting. Really broadly based.
I can see a lot of value in that. What do you think are the primary problems facing the Society today?
A large cohort of the young people today doesn’t understand why we can’t give them all our journals on-line free, and there is a subset of people that don’t see the need for becoming members of the Society. I’m not sure what adjectives to use, but there is no sense of personal responsibility to the discipline as a whole. The young people don’t buy journals, a lot of them don’t go to meetings. They don’t see why it’s necessary to become members of the Society. There are hundreds of people from the United States in the IAU who aren’t AAS members, for instance.
I’ve just done a correlation of the IAU members from the United States and the AAS membership to see if there are people who aren’t members that I could try to write letters to and say, “Hey, if you’re interested in astronomy, why aren’t you an AAS member? You’re in the IAU.” I found 400.
Yes, now, there are some errors in there and that sort of thing, but it’s certainly more than 300. That’s a lot.
Do you find people doing astronomy who have their allegiance to other disciplines?
Well, there are some people who are more oriented toward geophysics. Planetary work, for instance, is geophysics. I get letters every year when people drop out of it and don’t renew their membership. I write letters as secretary. I try to write letters to them saying, “You’ve been a member in the past. Is there a reason?” I don’t remember what phraseology I use, but, “Have we done something to really turn you off?” or whatever. Many people say, “Well, right now my life support isn’t directly tied to astronomy, and I really can’t afford it, and if my work turns back to astronomy in the future, I’ll rejoin.” So they are on-again off-again members, depending on where their soft money comes from, where their jobs come from, or like that. So we’ve got some of those, too.
There is a growing section of astronomy, mainly cosmology, particle physics activity in the American Physical Society. I’m wondering if you’re finding more and more physicists who are publishing in astronomical areas who are members of the American Physical Society and not of the AAS.
It could be. I don’t know what those numbers are. To try to track and cross correlate, this takes a lot of human power. At our university, we’ve got a couple of people in space science, the old cosmic ray group, who are members of AAS, and we’ve got a few of them who are not. So I don’t know if it’s a wash, but —
This question of the future relevance of the Society to astronomy is one that’s very important, I think. We’re asking some of the recent past presidents to discuss these contemporary issues and issues for the future for the centennial book, but I would like to invite you as well, in your essay, to consider this, if there are things you would want to say.
Comment on future uses of the Society?
Yes, the future role of the Society in the astronomical discipline. Just these points that there are something like 400 people in the IAU who are not AAS members. What does that mean? There are people who are trained in astronomy, but who do not get their money from astronomy anymore, who feel they can’t afford to maintain their membership. We’ve experienced something of the same thing in the Historical Astronomy Division, where the archeoastronomy group people found greater professional allegiance in anthropological groups and in other areas, folklore and others, and they’ve become more aligned with those groups than they have with the HAD, and they’re no longer members, or active in the HAD, whereas there are still people who want to do archeoastronomy and wonder why the HAD isn’t more active. It’s because the most active have moved on into other areas and are not loyal to the HAD itself. Their background lies elsewhere, or at least their interests do. Are there similar things in astronomy that the Society is not doing, for instance, to keep in the fold new branches of astronomy, such as astroparticle physics.
Yes, one of our guys says he’s in that. I mean, one of my colleagues, not an astronomer, but one of my physics colleagues.
Right. It would be an interesting observation to make, because we’d like the centennial book to be not only a look backwards at the past, but a sense of where we stand today and what the problems are for the future, because I’d like this book to be useful, say, a hundred years from now when people look back and get a sense of what was of concern to astronomers a hundred years ago. That’s one of the worthwhile goals that I have in mind, at least as editor of the book. If any of that interests you, that would be very interesting for you to examine.
By the way, how long will it be before I see a draft of this transcription?
I’ll try to expedite the transcription by sending it out rather than having it done in the museum. I can send you a completely rough draft, unedited, almost immediately.
That would be very useful, because I can pick up on some of these. I really was concerned about what I was going to write about. I’m getting some ideas just listening.
Good. Well, with the understanding that it’s an unedited draft, because normally we edit the drafts, and that takes a long time.
But if it’s something raw, I can scan raw things and pick up the gist of things and that’s what I want.
I’ll send it to a good transcriber. I keep this name list that I send to the transcriber, and typically they come back pretty good. But there’s a lot of false starts, as you know, and these are the sorts of things that we edit out. I’d be very happy if, as you went through it, you don’t need to edit anything, because we’ll be doing the editing ourselves, but you’ll see it in the edited form also.
Is there anything else that you feel that we should talk about your career, because this is also, of course, for the AIP Archives? We certainly haven’t covered everything.
No, I can’t think of much else at the moment.
You’ve been guest investigators at various places like the Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt, at Goethe Link, the observatory at Indiana, of course, Kitt Peak, Cerro Tololo, Las Campanas. Is this mainly to gain access to larger instrumentation?
I just go and get data for various projects. So that’s what the guest investigators mean, in my mind. Perhaps it means different things in other circumstances, but from an observational astronomer’s point of view, it just means that I’ve written proposals and/or been granted telescope time to go to those institutions and do observing, and that’s what I mean by that.
Is there anything else about the Society you think we should at least put on the record at this moment, your involvement with it?
I can’t think of anything today. I mean, there may be some questions if something comes up, but at the moment I can’t think of anything else.
Well, I’m delighted that this discussion has stimulated you to think about certain themes. It certainly has for me. So maybe we should cut it off here, and I’ll get it transcribed as quickly as I can and send it straight to you.
Yes. Just send it to the Baton Rouge office. I’m leaving for Chile on Tuesday, but I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.
Oh, we won’t get it that fast. No, it usually takes a few weeks. But we will ask for it to be expedited.