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Early education in Germany, 1934-1957, including study at Kiel University. Move to U.S. and work at University of Maryland encompassing plasma spectroscopy, sounding rocket work, and theta pinch plasmas, 1957-1962. Completion of Ph.D., 1963; move to National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA-Langley) for work on plasma spectroscopy, 1963-1968. Expansion to galactic structure; first work with computers; declines job offer from German firm. Move to NASA and Washington, D.C.; mission of solar programs office; relations with outside astronomers. Insider's view of committee meetings using Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) I as an example. Also prominently mentioned are: Marc Felix, Harold Glaser, Hans Griem, Fred Singer, Albrecht Otto Johannes Unsöld; Allgemeine Elekrizitäts Gesellschaft, American Astronomical Society, Langley Research Center, Orbiting Solar Observatory, and Sputnik (Spacecraft).
This interview is a biographical profile, an institutional history, and a focused study of examples of W. Kent Ford's electronic image amplifiers and detectors. The interview took place in the library of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism that exhibits some of these instruments.
Ford also brough several as illustrations during the interview. Portions of the interview were video recorded and are so indicated in the transcript.
The interview is generally chronological, starting with his description of family life in Clifton Forge, Virginia that centered on his grandfather's enterprise, the Western Power Company, and other businesses in the town managed by his family.
Topics include his pubic schooling, then boarding school, then training at Washington and Lee and graduate work at the University of Virginia. Discusses his mother's background and how he became interested in science. Describes how he came to meet Merle Tuve from the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM), and how he was soon hired as a summer assistant to participate in the technical development of thin films for photoelectric image recording.
After graduation, Ford returned to DTM with a thesis based directly on his thin film work, which he continued on the Carnegie Image Tube Committee.
There is much discussion on the history of the Committee, and Ford's participation in instrument development and contact with other members like William Baum, John Hall and others. Discusses development of electrostatic image tubes and testing at observatories in Ohio, and Flagstaff, Arizona, and then specifically describes instruments he brought with him for the interview emphasizing the technical details in their designs, what worked, what needed improvement.
Throughout there is discussion of both personal and professional milestones: contact with astronomers at many observatories, how he met and married his wife, and settling in Washington. There are also discussions of contacts with industry, including RCA, Westinghouse, and ITT.
Discussion then focuses on contact with Vera Rubin. How they deliberated over applications of the image tube technologies, settling on galaxy rotation curves, and how they designed their program, developing an off-set guiding system for the DTM image tube spectrograph. Describes and discusses the instrument in some detail and recommends how we should modify its display. Discussion of computers at DTM, how they changed over the years, and their role in ushering in digital detectors like the CCD into astronomy.