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Childhood in New York City; high quality of public schools during Depression; decision at 13 to become physicist; inspirational high school teachers; aptitude for mathematics; undergraduate at Community College of New York (CCNY) and junior year in Paris; graduate of Columbia University; involvement in Manhattan Project with John Dunning from 1942; University of Michigan and University of California, Berkeley after war; wife and children. Postwar transitions: scientists' reaction to the May-Johnson bill; the new physics; Ph.D., 1947. Michigan University's place in American physics (summer schools, Horace R. Crane). Joins University of California, Berkeley in 1950. Joins Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, 1950-1965; involvement in creating the Hudson Laboratories at Dobbs Ferry (Columbia University) in early 1950s; Director, 1953-1954. Assistant Secretary General of NATO (as Chief of NATO Science Committee), 1960-1962; joins JASON in 1962. Director of Scripps Institute of Oceanography from 1965. Assessment of own research. Consultancies and committee-work during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, often with U.S. Navy involvement. Scripps is touched upon, especially his difficulties upon assuming the directorship in 1965. More comments on the new physics (after World War II) and the Depression in physics in the late 1960s. Also prominently mentioned are: Carl David Anderson, Hymen Goldsmith, Harvey Hall, Morton Hamermesh, Ivan Hurlinger, Willis E. Lamb, Robert Andrews Millikan, Frederick B. Robinson, Harold Clayton Urey, Harold Worthington Webb, Lawrence Wills, Mitchell Wilson, and Robert Wolfe.
In this interview, Edward Uhler Condon discusses topics such as: his family background; early education; influence of high school physics teacher, William Howell Williams, 1914-1918, and later teacher at University of California, Berkeley; interval as boy reporter. Undergraduate years at Berkeley, beginning in 1921 in chemistry department; Ph.D. in physics, 1926; association with Fred Weinberg. Discovery of Erwin Schrödinger's wave mechanics papers; International Education Board fellowship to study quantum mechanics at Göttingen, 1926. Work on Bell Systems technical journal for six months before accepting lectureship at Columbia University; teaching post at Princeton University; Condon and Philip Morse's Quantum Mechanics, result of Columbia and Princeton courses. Relations with University of California; role in persuading Ernest Lawrence to go to Berkeley from Yale University. Recollections of Michigan summer school. Work at Westinghouse on applications of nuclear physics to industry, including completion of Van de Graaff machine, 1937-1940; setting up Westinghouse research fellowships, 1938; Massachusetts Institute of Technology conference on applications of nuclear physics, October 1940; war work on microwave radar. J. Robert Oppenheimer asks Condon to come to Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory; tour of Los Alamos with Leslie Groves; reasons for leaving Los Alamos after a few weeks. Work as head of theoretical section of Lawrence's laboratory, August 1943-1945; British scientists. Evaluation of Westinghouse's four million-volt machine. Description of Nimitron, a physical computer, designed for 1939 World's Fair. Discussion of 1928 radioactivity. Reminiscences of Ronald Gurney's later career and his trouble with security. Discussion of postwar events, such as the Quebec Conference, McMahon Act, Moran's book about Winston Churchill. Peacetime development of atomic energy; establishment of the Senate's Special Committee on atomic energy. Directorship of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), 1945-1951. Work on superconductivity; W. Emmanuel Maxwell and John Pelham. Accomplishments at NBS. Hearings in 1948 and 1952 before the Department of Commerce under Truman's loyalty program; Averell Harriman. Director of Research at Corning, 1951. House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, 1954; J. R. Oppenheimer and Bernard Peters; reopening of clearances, loss of Corning position; becomes Corning consultant. Head of Washington University physics department, 1956-1963; Oberlin College, 1962; interest in modernizing teaching; Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA), from 1963; editor of Reviews of Modern Physics, 1957-1968; establishment of the National Accelerator Laboratory (Chicago); the UFO story. Comments on his most satisfying and his least satisfying work. Also prominently mentioned are: Raymond T. Birge and Henry Wallace.
This interview was conducted as part of the Archives for the History of Quantum Physics project, which includes tapes and transcripts of oral history interviews conducted with ca. 100 atomic and quantum physicists. Subjects discuss their family backgrounds, how they became interested in physics, their educations, people who influenced them, their careers including social influences on the conditions of research, and the state of atomic, nuclear, and quantum physics during the period in which they worked. Discussions of scientific matters relate to work that was done between approximately 1900 and 1930, with an emphasis on the discovery and interpretations of quantum mechanics in the 1920s. Also prominently mentioned are: Niels Henrik, David Bohr, Gregory Breit, Percy Williams Bridgman, David Mathias Dennison, Alex Ellet, Paul Darwin Foote, Ralph Fowler, Edward Lee Hill, Edwin Crawford Kemble, Earl H. Kennard, Hendrik Anthony Kramers, Ralph de Laer Kronig, Robert Sanderson Mulliken, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Erwin Schroedinger, John Clarke Slater, Edmund Clifton Stoner, John T. Tate, Webster; Conference on Magnetism (Washington), Harvard University, University of Michigan, University of Michigan Physical Optics Committee, and University of Wisconsin.