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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.
Family background; grows up in California; early interest in electronics. Undergraduate and graduate studies at Caltech. Strong interest in history of science as undergraduate. Ph.D. in physics, 1932. University of California at Berkeley, 1932-1934. MIT from 1934; founder of the Radioactivity Center. Starts first course designated "nuclear physics," January 1935. Strong interest in study of radium poisoning; radium tolerance in humans, cancer research. World War II work, postwar work; establishment of Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering. Markle Foundation supplies funds for the Radioactivity Center's Cyclotron; the 1940 Conference on Applied Nuclear Physics (sponsored by the American Institute of Physics and MIT); World War II work at the Radioactivity Center at MIT; radium dial paint studies; radium and plutonium safety regulations (Glenn Seaborg); work relations with the Manhattan Project; the MAMI (marked mine) project reveals indication of German plutonium project. Also prominently mentioned are: Carl David Anderson, Joe Aub, Joe Boyce, Vannevar Bush, Evan Byers, John Cockcroft, Robert Colenko, Arthur Holly Compton, Karl Taylor Compton, Enrico Fermi, Horace Ford, Ralph Howard Fowler, George Gamow, Newell Gingrich, Clark Goodman, Leslie Richard Groves, George Harrison, Hobart, Elmer Hutchisson, Ray Keating, Arthur Kip, Pinkie Klein, Rudolf Ladenburg, Charles Christian Lauritsen, Thomas Lauritsen, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Gilbert Newton Lewis, Willard Frank Libby, Milton Stanley Livingston, Leonard Benedict Loeb, Sam Lynd, Edwin Mattison McMillan, Robert Andrews Millikan, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Elmer Robinson, Ernest Rutherford, John Clarke Slater, Sorensen, Robert Jamison Van de Graaff, Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, Martin Wittenberg, Jerrold Reinach Zacharias; American Institute of Physics; American Cancer Society, Bausch and Lomb Co., National Research Council, Radiation Standards Committee, United States Federal Cancer Commission, United States Food and Drug Administration, United States National Bureau of Standards, United States Navy, University of Rochester, University of Utah Salt Lake City Project, Wesleyan University, World War I, and World War II.
Born in Texas in 1903; influence of remote, rural environment on his upbringing and early education. Attended Weatherford Junior College until 1923; studies at University of Chicago, B.A. in 1926, M.A. in 1928, and Ph.D. (formally awarded) in 1937. Comments on courses, teachers and fellow students at Chicago, including J. Harlan Bretz and Rollin T. Chamberlin. Summer research at Amerada Petroleum Corporation (Oklahoma), Illinois State Geological Survey, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), late 1920s to early 1930s. First teaching position at Columbia University; research on ground-water motion; involvement in Technocracy Movement, 1930s. Marriage to Miriam Graddy Berry, 1938. Senior analyst on staff of Board of Economic Warfare, 1942-1943; deepening commitment to issue of natural resources. Thoughts on limited interactions between geologists and geophysicists; work in advisory committees on geophysics education, 1930s to 1940s. Theory of scale models, 1937; related research involving strength of solids. Career at Shell Oil Company and Shell Development Company, 1943-1964; directs research laboratory at Shell, perspectives on industry environment for scientific research. Lecture tours to geological, industrial, and policy groups, 1940s to 1960s; involvement in Atomic Energy Commission, National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, advisory committees. Research with W. W. Rubey on overthrust faulting. Deepening interest in oil and natural gas reserves; responses from officials in petroleum corporations and federal government to his predictions of local, national, and worldwide reserves, 1950s to 1960s. Research geophysicist at USGS, 1964-1976, after retirement from Shell; studies of natural resources and conflicts over his conclusions involving other scientists at USGS. Visiting professorships at Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, University of California, Berkeley, 1962-1977. Continued involvement in issue of geophysical education at American universities and in studies of natural resources, 1950s to 1970s.
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 circa 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: Max Abraham, Sam Allison, Anderson, Harry Bateman, Eric Temple Bell, Hans Albrecht Bethe, Niels Henrik David Bohr, Bragg, Percy Williams Bridgman, Clark, Edward Condon, Robert Dawson, Peter Josef William Debye, Hobart Cutler Dickinson, William Duane, Paul Ehrenfest, John Ellis, Kasimir Fajans, Ronald Geballe, Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, Victor Guillemin, William Draper Harkins, Walter Heitler, Lloyd Alexander Jeffress, Irving Langmuir, Gilbert Newton Lewis, Fritz London, H. J. Lucas, Edwin Mattison McMillan, Robert Andrews Millikan, A. A. Noyes, Wilhelm Ostwald, Boris Podolsky, Floyd Rowland, Erwin Schrödinger, Allen Goodrich Shenstone, William Shockley, Arnold Sommerfeld, Richard Chance Tolman, Albrecht Unsöld, Gregor Wentzel, Hermann Weyl; California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Kben︣havns Universität, Oregon Agricultural College, Universität München, Universität Zurich, and University of California, Berkeley.