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In this interview, Horace Babcock discusses how the field of astrophysics has changed over the course of his career. Topics discussed include: research administration; Mount Wilson Observatory; Ira S. Bowen; National Science Foundation; California Institute of Technology; stellar evolution; photomultiplier tubes; Joel Stebbins; Albert E. Whitford; Gerald Kron; Allan Sandage; Martin Schwarzschild; spectrographs; radio astronomy; x-ray astronomy; galactic evolution; stellar material; Robert McMath; societies; American Astronomical Society; International Astronomical Union; Jan Oort; Theodore Dunham Jr.; Alexander Pogo.
Childhood in New York; high school experience at Horace Mann; Harvard undergraduate at the age of 15. Impressions of ordeal with Harlow Shapley. Depression years in the family business, return to a very changed Harvard in 1934. Thesis work on Interstellar Absorption (Bart Bok), Ph.D. 1937. Postdoc at Yerkes Observatory (Otto Struve) working on Upsilon Sagittarius. Develops the 140-degree camera (the Greenstein-Louis G. Henyey camera); work with Fred Whipple on radio signals from space (Karl Jansky, Grote Reber), Greenstein and Reber’s review article on classified radio detection work during World War II. Founding of the Astrophysics Department at Caltech. Radio astronomy in the mid-1950s. Work on white dwarfs from 1957 on. Own accomplishments as scientist and in personal life. Impressions of Martin Schwarzschild, Shapley, Reber, Fred Hoyle. Also prominently mentioned are: Walter Sydney Adams, Lloyd Viel Berkner, John Bolton, Leverett Davis, William Alfred Fowler, Leo Goldberg, Louis Henyey, Fred Hoyle, Edwin Powell Hubble, Milton Lasell Humason, Robert Hutchins, Karl Jansky, Gerard Peter Kuiper, Tom R. Matthews, Robert Reynolds McMath, Donald Howard Menzel, Paul Merrill, Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski, William Wilson Morgan, Guido Munch, Beverly Oke, Donald Osterbrock, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Harry Hemley Plaskett, Robert Richardson, Allan Sandage, Jan Scheldt, Shklovsky, Charlotte Moore Sitterly, Lyman Spitzer, Edward Teller, Richard Chace Tolman, Robert Julius Trumpler, Merle Antony Tuve, Albrecht Otto Johannes Unsold, Immanuel Velikofsky, Frederick Whipple; Carnegie Institution of Washington, Hale Observatories, Harvard College Observatory, Lick Observatory, McDonald Observatory, McDonald Observatory Nebular spectrograph, National Science Foundation (U.S.), 100-inch Telescope, University of Chicago, and Vista Project.
Early life in Mexico; Civil Engineering school, 1938, physics in Mexico; University of Mexico; study group; visitors from the United States, 1941; McDonald and Yerkes Observatories, 1942; work with Otto Struve; modern physics at University of Mexico; contact with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar; Solomon Lefshetz's influence on mathematics in Mexico; Yerkes courses and general atmosphere after 1944; Struve's administration; work with Chandrasekhar; postdoctoral work in Mexico; return to Yerkes, staff reorganization; research at Yerkes, including radiative transfer, stellar envelopes, and Jupiter (Gerhard Herzberg); Mt. Wilson and work there; Caltech position; general research in 1950s and 1960s; limitations of present day research; teaching at Caltech; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); decision to accept position in Germany; Caltech and Carnegie Institute of Technology; role of Kitt Peak Observatory in Federal Funding for Astronomy; reflections on past work. Also prominently mentioned are: Camilo Arguello, Wilhelm Heinrich Walter Baade, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, Robert Hutchins, Gerard Peter Kuiper, William Wilson Morgan, Luis Münch, Satero Prieto, Olin Chaddock Wilson; Hale Observatories, and Tonantzintla Observatory.