[We are entering the conversation in mid-flow: Sproull spent 1958-1959 in Brussels more details below.]
Robert Sproull: I used to live in Brussels.
Arne Hessenbruch: Did you work for NATO?
Robert Sproull: Not really. I was with Union Carbine Laboratory but I lectured with NATO. NATO sponsored a lecture trip around Europe the same year.
Arne Hessenbruch: Let me tell you who I am and where I am coming from. I am in a project called history of recent science and technology on the web, which is based at MIT at the Dibner Institute at MIT, although it has participants from Stanford and Minnesota and other places. It is a project that is funded by the Sloan foundation and the Dibner fund. The project is for three years in the first instance, and there are five projects, but only one is materials research, the history of materials research.
Robert Sproull: What are the others?
Arne Hessenbruch: Bioinformatics, renormalization in quantum physics, the Apollo guidance computer, and the genetics and Darwinism and Evolution clashing in the 70's and 80's are the others. The normal theory of evolution is what it is called. These are five very different topics. And also, renormalization is a very small and focused field. Comparatively anyways, certainly in comparison to materials research, which is immense.
Robert Sproull: So science, where Apollo is all technology?
Arne Hessenbruch: Yes. It is called history of recent science and technology.
Robert Sproull: Materials is both?
Arne Hessenbruch: Just as it is called in many departments: Materials Science & Engineering. We do a number of things. We try to locate archives. We also want to write the history, but we are actively searching out people who have lived the experience and can help if they want to have a say in writing history themselves. In terms of the archive, this is actually how I got to you. I gave a talk at Cornell in the science technology and society department, which is on the same floor as the Center, the Cornell Center for Materials Research, and I went to the restroom, and I met Frank DiSalvo. We actually stood next to each other and started talking. He said, "well we have this paper archive, we have some filing cabinets like this that are full of paper that we would like to throw away - are you interested?" I said sure, and now we are scanning the paper archive and making it accessible on the web. And as part of that I also met Dale Corson. I talked to Dale and he said that I must talk to Robert Sproull. He is the man to talk to, and of course I have come across you in many other sources. My agenda was to get you to talk about your own career in general - all the way if possible. But then I would very much like to hear about Cornell and DARPA. I must confess that I did not do my homework. There is a book on the history of DARPA that I did not read. I should have read that, and if you would like to refer to that book there is no need for repeating.
Robert Sproull: It is a good book. The author has [written the book] with IDA or other type of support. My problem now is that I am unable to dredge up the name of the person that wrote it.
Arne Hessenbruch: I can.
Robert Sproull: He worked for me and did the "Social Scientist". He is a very able guy. That is the problem with getting older.
Arne Hessenbruch: By that standard I am old too. I dread the social situations where you have to introduce people who have never met because I completely forget their names at that point.
Robert Sproull: I have a wife that helps me out immensely. Richard J. Barber Associates. That was a contracting organization. Barber was the text Pentagon, but he was not the author. I am almost certain it is a monosyllabic name. We are talking about the same book?
Arne Hessenbruch: I think so.
Robert Sproull: This one is called "The Advanced Research Project Agency 1958-1974." 1958? 1958-1974. Ok. It was published in Washington D.C. in 1975.
Arne Hessenbruch: It would be the one all right. But it says Richard J. Barber Associates?
Robert Sproull: That is just the contractual auspices under which it was written. That guy worked for me, and he was in the South East Asia "Argil" Group. I would follow my papers, and a lot of politicians lived in the Pentagon. I did not take anything with me. I had a little bit of trouble.
Arne Hessenbruch: That also means that they are not accessible, right? Can you get them through the Freedom of Information Act?
Robert Sproull: They are over 25 years old now. I do not think there is any problem with that, but the problem is, they are not very interesting.
Arne Hessenbruch: Let us get back to a chronology of your life. I would like to get at the interdisciplinary laboratories program in materials research. It was shaped, though many conceptions of how it should be organized and what it should be doing. For instance, there were tensions about a centralized program against a decentralized program spread out over many different universities. There was tension about pure science versus applied science, and obviously there will always be turf wars and fight over money concerning who gets a slice of the pie. What I would like to learn about is, who was arguing for what kind of thing, who were the opponents in the discussions, and what was the mechanism of negotiation at this time?
Robert Sproull: Fascinating subject. It has so many ramifications. The problem is that you will start branching out like this. I immediately think of J Hoover Holloman. Have you ever heard of him? No. He later became the assistant secretary of commerce. But you also talk about decentralization versus centralization. A couple of years at a saving of 1960, maybe 1958 or 1957. It was after '57 because that was Sputnik. In 1958 or 1959, Holloman was chairman of an Airforce advisory committee that conceived a national laboratory of materials. I can even place it better than that. It must have been just barely near Sputnik, so early 1958 he conceived this idea, and beat the drum, for a national laboratory of materials. At this time he was a lab director for General Electric at Knowles. He was an interesting guy, and more of a promoter than a scientist or engineer. He was an effective speaker and writer. He conceived this laboratory and began to beat the drum for it. I remember that I was opposed to this laboratory, as a lot of people were.
Arne Hessenbruch: You were opposed to the central?
Robert Sproull: Yes. I was opposed to the central probably for selfish reasons. I had thought that it would take much of the spirit away from universities. I remember getting a letter from him. I had spent an academic year, 1958-1959, in Brussels. The letter said that there were only three kinds of people that were in favor of this laboratory: people in government, people in industry, and people in universities. [Laughter] It was dying very fast in the winter of 1958 and 1959. That is just a vice-vireo when you bring up the question of centralization versus decentralization. A lot of the argument, in various places, did not center around the Holloman conception, but the Holloman conception made a rallying point for people on both sides to talk to. The conception collapsed completely in the winter of 1958 and 1959, of having the materials labs as interdisciplinary laboratories. I really shot my wad in this little piece, except for one thing. It does not say anything about my role, and it does not say anything about Cornell's role. Intentionally. I am afraid that if I got started it would become too much of a apologia pro quo lit type of thing, and I did not want to get involved in that. I wanted to try to be as neutral as I can. With the exception of that, I really think I told a story there of the materials labs and how the government activity was focused. A guy that had a great deal to do with that, and I hope I gave him some credit in this piece, died just two months ago, Don Stevens. He was in the AAC. I wish I had the papers to do it, but I do not, to make a memorial to him. My guess is that I will be one of the participants in an obituary in Physics Today, but I am not even sure if Physics Today will even publish the obituary, because Don was by profession a chemist, but also had a lot to do with post war physics through the creation of these material laboratories.
Arne Hessenbruch: What papers would you need to write that obituary?
Robert Sproull: I would need my correspondence with Don. I have some of that. I would also need to go into the AEC and get his correspondence back and forth between his contractors and bosses. He was a really amazing guy, and a dedicated government servant. He was a person that could deflect the nonsense that comes out of Washington in order that the contractor, the guy working on the lab bench, felt very little of Washington paint-by-number management. He could turn this nonsense aside and protect the contractor, the scientist, or engineer from his own stupidity in doing things and making speeches interfering with money for the next year. A lot of government agencies did not bother with, or gloated over the fact, that they did understand the Washington scene, and that the scientists and engineers did not, and therefore were making fools of themselves. Stevens took the exact opposite attitude. He took the attitude that it was his job to create sense going both ways, and deflect the nonsense that threatens to go both ways. He [Stevens] died after poor health for many years. I will put you in touch with a person at the Bureau of Standards, although it is not the Bureau of Standards anymore. It is now called NIST. He can do better by way of explaining Stevens role and the government role from the AEC standpoint. He was, by a big margin, the principle contributor to funds in the post-war period. It was there, before ONR was started, and then ONR was then the next most effective contributor long before there was a NSF. The Airforce office highest RSAOFR sort of copied ONR a little bit later, but the OEAEC was the principle player. Stevens was the key guy there. To get materials story from the government standpoint pre-1960, I will get you in touch with his friend at NIST. You must go to Washington from time to time.
Arne Hessenbruch: I have not been to Washington yet. I must.
Robert Sproull: All right. He is out in Germantown, but you can still get there. Where were we?
Arne Hessenbruch: We were talking about the negotiations in Washington D.C. generally. Then we got talking about Don Stevens, because you stated that you wanted to do him justice by writing an obituary if you were able to get the papers. I would be happy to help you get the papers to do the obituary.
Robert Sproull: You do not have to do that. This person at NST will deal with that, and I may not be involved. He is orchestrating the obituary.
Arne Hessenbruch: We should take you from the beginning. I would really like to get at the Cornell connection when we get to ARPA, and if we could take the entire subject.
Robert Sproull: From the beginning?
Arne Hessenbruch: I mean from the very beginning.
Robert Sproull: Last year, or almost two years ago now, the Physics Colloquium asked me to write a paper on my career. I have written it out so I will send it to you. The paper is called "The Careers of One Physicist". The implication being that it is more than one career, but still one Physicist. The paper is oriented towards physics, trying to explain that at each stage in my career physics was involved. This was the case because it was for a physics colloquium which would try to explain to people the far reach and richness of physics as a career. In fact, I did not say it at this time, and it is not in the paper, but years ago I tried to put forward the idea that physics in the twentieth century education played the same role as Greek did in the nineteenth century. Physics was the Greek of the twentieth century. Particularly in British education, Greek was the central position. The idea being that if you could understand Greek and the Greek writers, than this was as close to a liberal education that you could receive. I sort of half tongue and cheek said that physics played the same role, and if you understood physics, and understood what it could do and was doing, than it was a good central position for a liberal education. Clearly I was not turning my back on Shakespeare or Aristotle, but still it was full of sun for a while but it never took off. I was born in Illinois in a little town that you have never heard of called Lacon, not Lincoln, but Lacon. I was born at home, because there was no hospital, in a house that had no central heat or water, but that was a long time ago. That was 1918. I moved around to various places, because my father worked for the power company, and whenever he received a promotion he went to a different town that they were in. These promotions were always around Chicago, but never in Chicago. The Great Depression came on in 1933 and 1935. I graduated from high school in the middle of the Depression in 1935 at a little high school called Morris just south west of Chicago. It was a terrible high school. Am I giving too much detail?
Arne Hessenbruch: No.
Robert Sproull: All right. My first two years in high school were in Deerfield Shields Township High School just north of Chicago. It is now called Highland Park High School. It is a very good high school, one of the best high schools in the country. It serves posterity right. The first two years were very good. My mother was always pushing my brother and me to be more scholars and work harder etc. etc. She had learned through the high school of a little work study school in California called Deep Springs. Very few people have heard of this school. Only twenty-three or twenty-four students were the total of three classes. It is a work study school out at a cattle ranch. She had heard about this through that good high school those first two years. So I went down to this poor high school, but I was determined, because I wanted to be an electrical engineer.
Arne Hessenbruch: Like your father?
Robert Sproull: Yes. I did a lot of that stuff at home, but that is a side fact and is not very important anyway. What were you talking about now? I built all sorts of electrical apparatus for Halloween and all sorts of things. I would put a gasoline engine on a child's coaster wagon and so on. I built a telephone system for the house. I did ham radio in the days when ham radio was fun. We moved away from this good high school, and I was determined to go to a good school, if I could do so, in electrical engineering. I took the SAT test, and studied trigonometry on my own, because trigonometry was not offered at this high school. The mathematics teacher was a marvelous woman by the name of Edith Kincaid, who was very helpful and cordial. She was very encouraging when I said that I wanted to learn trigonometry on the side. She then said that she would be helpful anyway that she could. I found the textbooks trivial, and very easy to do. I got the old Gin and Company of exams, and looked them over, and was doing fine. I thought I was uncordial to not go to her for help. Halfway through the fall semester I then went to her. She said, "Well Bobby. I have to confess. I never had trigonometry." That was the way our high school was. I took the exams. By then...you probably have never heard of Samuel Insull, have you?
Arne Hessenbruch: No.
Robert Sproull: Oh Insoll. I N S O double L. I N S O L L. No. He was an interesting guy. You have heard of the FCC.
Arne Hessenbruch: Yes
Robert Sproull: Insull did not intend to, but essentially was the guy that founded the FCC. He bought up a lot of operating power companies in the Middle West, merged them into a thing called Middle West Utility, sold Middle West Utility stock, which was one hundred percent water, forced all of the employees of the operating companies to put all of their savings into Middle West Utilities. If you wanted to keep your job, that is what you did. I am talking about a world that you do not believe in, or believe existed, but it did exist then. Your job was actually on the line unless you bought, turned in, in this case, public service of Illinois stock and converted it to Middle West Utilities, which was one hundred percent water. The value then went to Insoll, who was the guy that put the whole thing together. He was a friend of Thomas Edison's. I discovered in the Edison Memorial in Florida, on the west coast, that Insoll and Edison were great friends, great rightists, with far-right foundations of all sorts. This became such an egregious fraud, that the Roosevelt administration by then was in the act, after 1935, 1936, and then they founded the FCC, the Securities and Exchange Commission which was almost single handedly the work of Insull's fraud. That was the money that was supposed to send my brother and me to school. He went to the University of Illinois, but even the pocket money, books and so on, was almost too much. The family coffer was empty two years later by the time I was ripe for graduation. Fortunately, my mother kept this Deep Springs thing alive, and I applied for it, and in the last minute got in to the school, on the basis of the SAT scores and myself taking the initiative to get the trigonometry. The competition was very keen, because you do not pay tuition or any boardroom. It was just work study on a cattle ranch. In those days it was three years, and you got two years college credit. I actually had two and a half. Now it is only two years, but during the war the students could not stay deferred unless they went at the regular rate. It is an interesting place. I have been a trustee of it, and my wife and I have contributed a great fraction of our resources, which turned out to be more money than we ever intended to have, to keep it going. It is now thriving. It had its bad days, but only financial. It had bad days of another sort, but that is neither here or there. I went to Deep Springs. The guy that founded Deep Springs also founded an organization at Cornell called the Tuttlywhite Association. If you talk to Cornell people, everybody knows about Tuttyright House on the Cornell campus. It looks like a fraternity, but it is actually quite different. You do not pay any board rooms if you go there. Secondly, about half the students are graduate students, and there are two faculty, always, and usually two foreign, not necessarily students, usually post-doctorate's or junior faculty that are from overseas. It is more like an Oxford College than a Middle West fraternity. I was made a member of the Tuttyright Association. Members are the managers of the endowment. At that time, the endowment was eight or ten million dollars. It is now ninety or a hundred million dollars. Students and young graduates themselves are the administrators of the endowment. It is one of the few things, or the only one that I know of that had that specific feature where the beneficiaries are the trustees of educational endowment. I became a member immediately. I was elected secretary, and this thing called custodian, which really means the member of the financial committee. I started learning corporate accounting at the ripe old age of nineteen. I was the member of the committee that managed the securities, the endowment. To say the least, I did not know very much. I started learning as fast as I possibly could. Then I transferred to Cornell. By that time I had given up electrical engineering. I read books in the Deep Springs library. I was absolutely fascinated by quantum mechanics.
Arne Hessenbruch: What year is this now?
Robert Sproull: 1938. 1935 to 1938 I was at Deep Springs.
Arne Hessenbruch: So you read Slater?
Robert Sproull: No. Slater was not out by then. There was a book by Carl Darrow which had popularized quantum mechanics. I cannot remember any others by title. Slater's book came on a little bit later. It is up there unless I have given it away. I have given away most of my library. People come in and I say "take your pick." Let me find the date. 1951. That is a later edition. It was out before then. I have a fifth edition. What does that say? Sorry. My mistake. I transferred to Cornell. I had only one physics course at Deep Springs, which only had two students in it, myself and another student. He became a Ph.D. chemist. Our teacher was a mathematician, so we would really do it by ourselves. The lab was almost nothing, but we pieced together stuff and actually did experiments. Trying to improvise on a cattle ranch in the California desert is not the way that most people go about it, but I do not know whether it is all that bad. I started taking physics courses like mad. Am I too prolix on this? [AH shakes his head] I will take another byway that is also quite interesting. At Deep Springs my third year, the person who had been hired to be the mathematics instructor, at the last minute, reneged. The dean, and the director, who incidentally was Larry Kimpton, who later became president of the University of Chicago, but at that time he was just a fresh caught philosophy Ph.D. from Cornell. He asked me to teach the calculus course. The course had five students in it. So I did that. It is well known that that is how you learn something really. I was pretty good at it, and I do not mind saying that into your machine. I went to Cornell and still had problems, although I had room and board free, I had to get money for tuition somehow. I could compete for Tuttyright funds, but I preferred to do it on my own. So I preferred to earn some money, even though I did not have to. I started working for John Curtis over at the mathematics department, who had a course on advanced statistics that I was taking. He hired me to do his notes. He was going to write a book out of them. I do not think the book ever came out, but I still have the notes somewhere. That did not do much. I did not get any money for that. All I got was a set of the notes. It did get me in with the secretary of the mathematics department and John Curtis, who both recommended me as a calculus tutor. That turned out to be very lucrative. I could teach them calculus, and what was more valuable to them, I could get them through the exams. To just follow that thread to the end, it is a fascinating thing in a way, the last year that I was at Cornell, since I had graduated in only year and a half to save money, because the graduate school tuition turned out to be lower than the undergraduate tuition. I graduated as soon as I could get the credits together. That turned out to be only a year and a half, although normally I should have taken two years. Towards the end of that period, I was very short minded, because I had got married in the spring of 1942. We thought we should celebrate our sixtieth wedding anniversary, so we went to Bermuda this last weekend. Most people would go to Bermuda on their honeymoon, but we could not possibly do that. Since I was short of money, I began tutoring for the alumni association, which supported tutoring for the football team. In 1942, 1942, the only way Cornell could have a football team was to have engineers. The only way you could have engineers is if they passed calculus. I convinced them that the only way they could pass calculus was to hire me as a tutor. They did. I had the whole football team as my tutoring class. That worked fine in the winter of '41 and '42, but in the winter of '42 and '42 they did not pay me in the fall. The engineers were playing football all right, but they were not paying their calculus instructor. I got a little bit of our scarce resources, went to a football game, and bought a program. I marked on the program all of the people who would not be there if they did not pass calculus, and sent it to the alumni association, and they paid me the next week. My life as an entrepreneur, the only real success. I transferred to Cornell, and took physics like mad, because I essentially had no physics. I graduated in a year and a half, but by then I really had not got the benefit of many of the Cornell faculty. It was not really a lot of sense to pick up stakes and transferring. I had a good deal at the Tuttyright house, and by that time I was heavily involved in Tuttyright affairs, and did not want to drop it. I had fellowships offered at several places. Columbia and Wisconsin are two that I remember. They were both good places, but Cornell offered me a President White Fellowship, which is their good graduate fellowship, so I took it. I started in almost immediately trying to think about a thesis, because the war was along and everyone on the faculty was involved with war activities of one sort. Bethe was commuting to the radiation lab at MIT. My advisor, Mike Smith, was working at RCA laboratories at Princeton, both of them on microwave radar. I started on a thesis topic that Lloyd had presented to me. I worked on it a little bit just on pencil and paper, and found out that it was just an impossible job, something that still has not been done; to get two magnetrons to beat together to look for quantum effects at vari quo quantum level in a cavity. The quantum noise in a cavity has been discovered or observed by another student of Lloyd Smith's working at UCLA much later, but using the output of beautiful klystrons from the lower not magnetrons. These were available in 1942. The second topic then that he proposed to me, which was something that I had known about, because the summer of 1941 I worked for Bell Laboratories ... on microwave radar. Things were compartmentalized in those days. Lloyd knew that I worked there, but I was working there on klystrons. He was working at the Reison lab as a visitor, but also mainly at RCA laboratories on magnetrons. We had funny conversations, but out of it came the knowledge that I had not been privy to. It had been suspected that thermionic emission from an oxide cathode was much greater if you took it out at micro second pulses instead of CW, continuous wave. The question was why. That became my Ph.D. thesis. I never did find out completely why.
Arne Hessenbruch: With whom?
Robert Sproull: With Lloyd Smith. Lloyd P. Smith. There is another Lloyd Smith who is a nuclear physicist at Illinois. You have to be a little careful. I discovered a lot about it. There was not an exponential decay, which the radiation laboratory people claim, and still claim as far as I know. There just was not. That's all. There was also a paper that was submitted to Physics Review, but was classified, and was later published at the end of the war when it became declassified. Not a very earth shaking thesis, but interesting in a technological way. I did not learn any new science. Or teach anybody else any new science. In the spring of '42, I finished the thesis up. My undergraduate degree was spring of 1940. I got a Ph.D. in April of 1942. '43. Sorry. April of '43. Then the question was "what do you do". I could have gone to the radiation lab. I could have gone to Los Alamos. That is totally irrelevant, so forget about that. RCA was the fastest thing, because I was already keyed in with Lloyd Smith, and he knew exactly what I would do etc. etc., and the war was getting on. It was clear that you had to hurry if you were going to do anything. I decided to go to RCA, as the fastest way to do something that might turn out to be interesting. That did not turn out to be too bad of a decision. There was Earnest Linder, who was not a very imaginative physicist, but he was very kind and helpful to me. Mainly, I worked for Irving Wolf. He was my boss. He was an amazing guy. He was a Ph.D. from Cornell in the '20's, and went to work for the Victor talking machine company. He invented something that I will not try to explain to you. Do you know microwaves?
Arne Hessenbruch: Yes.
Robert Sproull: You know the choke joint.
Arne Hessenbruch: No.
Robert Sproull: Well, when you put two together, and you do not want any leakage of microwaves out, what you have is a choke coupling. You must have used those if you worked with microwaves. You never put two things together where you do not use a choke coupling.
Arne Hessenbruch: I have never worked with microwaves.
Robert Sproull: Ok. Go ask your associates sometime to show you. When the MIT people, in the radiation lab, many times when they invented things, they found out that Saldsworth at Bell Laboratories had invented them earlier. In this one case, they found that Irving Wolf had invented it. It was for the Victor Talking Machine Company to take out the 60 cycle hum. The big Victor phonographs had the come-down cover, like this. Wolf had an idea to put a choke coupling in there, so that the 60 cycle hum did not get out into the room. It turned out that his patent lawyers had covered all the bases. It turned out that that was covered not for just acoustics, but also electromagnetic waves. Wolf was a very imaginative guy, and had invented CW bombing radar that the TVS in the Pacific used throughout the war. Partly I was working on microwave versions of that, but mainly working on X-band 3 cm microwave cyclotrons and resonant cavities and measurements. Out of it came a number of papers, but all of them were a technological sort, no new science, but mainly how make the cyclotron work better, and how to do resident cavity measurement. We got a couple of patents, which have long since expired. Worthless I think. I do not think anyone made a nickel out of it. I made a hundred dollars out of them by signing off on the RCA papers. At the end of the war, RCA was trying desperately to keep their staff. I knew something that they did not want anyone to know. I knew that they were going to go hog-wild in television. A lot of other people knew that too. You could easily guess it. I knew that I did not want anything to do with that. We had seen a lot of television during the war, because we babysat for a couple, Hal and Lillian Rose, both dead now, unfortunately, who were very kind to us by letting us have a place where we could read, or look at radio or television, because they had one of those experimental sets. Hal was inventor of the image orthicon, which was the tube that made television really practical. It no longer took the boiling lights that pre-war and wartime television took. Gyroscope just required so much light that heat just discouraged anyone to appear in front of it. The image orthicon, that Hal invented, was very much sensitive, and for many years was the work horse for the television industry until solid state devices came along. Now they have completely taken over of course. I got off the track here.
Arne Hessenbruch: You said you did not want to go into TV. Why not?
Robert Sproull: I thought it was a pure old invention. The idea of sitting and looking at that tube...I thought that it would have all the vices of radio and probably invent a few of its own. And I was right.
Arne Hessenbruch: Yes. We never got a television set until...
Robert Sproull: You know most of my decisions have been bad, and this was one of them. The election campaign of 1964, the Goldwater campaign, we were in Washington then, and I thought we just had to have a television set. We got a simple black and white set, and that was the first television set we have had. And that was '64, after the war. I was determined not to go to RCA. At that time, Cornell was trying to put together a post-war staff, and there were two branches of this. One of them was Los Alamos branch which was all centered on House Beta. Bob Barker. Do you know that name now? He later became president of Cal. Tech. Boyce McDaniel, Dale Corson, Al Silverman, Dick Fineman, the whole Los Alamos crew was at one batch. Lloyd Smith was putting together a different batch based on solid-state physics of electronic processes and gases. Jim Krumhansl and I were the...I was the experimental side of it and Jim was the theoretical side of it. In engineering, Henri Sack, excuse me, Debye in Europe was pretty much the engineering key man. Nobody came from the radiation lab. I have to think. I am sure there were more. Some of them will come back. Limon Perot was part of the solid electronic group although he was briefly at Los Alamos. Mainly he had been at Aberdeen Proving Ground during the war, but then at the very end of the war he went to Los Alamos. He was part of the group that....and Tom Boulion who had been there, stayed there during the war at Cornell and never went out into any war work. I am trying to go down the main hall at Rockefeller. They were pretty thin. But then the rest were people that were hired coming in, as sort of a half generation, people who were not done and were out doing war work, but were in the pipeline for Ph.D.'s at the time of the war. Don Holkham, Bob Sillsby, the whole crew, were people who came in three or five years later. I am still trying to find the names of the immediate post-war group. There is a guy named Wally, who Lloyd brought in. He was just an electronic circuit guy, and did not last very long. That was it I guess. We went to Cornell and got immediately involved in trying to convert an old wooden building, Rockefeller Hall. Have you ever been to Cornell? Do you know Rockefeller Hall?
Arne Hessenbruch: Yes.
Robert Sproull: If you have been there now it is a different building inside. It has been completely gutted and put together again. It is distinguished by the fact that the architects knew that it was going to burn down some way. They thought that they would be very clever, and in the joist, between floors, where you have a floor here and a ceiling here, they filled it with cinders. And as far as I know that is still there. I do not think, in all of the remodeling, that they took out the ceilings and took out the floors. We were trying to do ultra-clean experiments. I started work on trying to grow barium oxide crystals, primarily why it was thermionic emitter. In a way it was a kind of hand-me-down from my thesis work. But realizing that you were not going to learn much from a complicated system, which was mostly art and very little science, by looking directly at the thermionic emission business, I wanted to go back and try to learn something about single crystal physics of a doublet single crystal. Following up what had been done on the oscillator hay lodge.
Arne Hessenbruch: When is this now?
Robert Sproull: This is circa '43. April of '43, we went back to. Do I have that right?
Arne Hessenbruch: Were you not at RCA during the war?
Robert Sproull: Yeah. I am sorry. I am all wrong! 1943 is when we left Cornell. This was '46. 1946. Yes.
Arne Hessenbruch: Ok. So it is immediately after the war.
Robert Sproull: It was April 1, we went there on April 1 and came back there on April 1, but it was '46, obviously. Thank you. I am making a mess of things. We were trying to get this building into some kind of shape so we can do clean experiments. We had to do all the experiments in barium oxide in a dry box, dried with liquid nitrogen, because barium oxide turns out to be a better desiccant than anything else including fuming sulfuric acid, which is sort of the chemist's idea of the most drying agent that you can get. My students started working on growing crystals, which we were eventually able to do. It is also very corrosive, so you cannot put it in any type of crucible. We conceived the idea of putting it in a barium oxide crucible. That turned out to be not too easy, but turned out to be successful. I got some very good graduate students. It was just marvelous in those days. You heard people crow about it. You must have been one of those people, weren't you? No you weren't, you weren't there. It was the best crop of graduate students that had ever came down the pipe. They were all very serious. It seemed, what a mistake it was to be a G.I. during the war. Who wanted to be down at that end of the heap again? I was particularly lucky. I do not know why. I guess it was the appeal of doing individual experiments, where as the rest of the graduate students at Cornell going into the nuclear lab, could already sense the fact that there would be big teams doing things. So I tended to get the people that did not want big teams. Bethe's name was a great drawing card to bring students to Cornell. Once they got there, then they could have their pick of any professor to work with. They were not assigned to anybody. They came there and found that Bethe was completely overloaded. They found this marvelously interesting guy, Feynman, but he became overloaded within a month or two, because everybody went to him. The drawing power of Bethe, Feynman, and Dyson - Freeman Dyson came then as a student, but really a guy that could be a named professor anywhere in the world. I will tell you about Dyson if we have time, but that is a different story. We had the drawing power of those people. Lloyd Smith's name was not much of a drawing power, and I had no name at all. We had the drawing power then, and then the people came and found from our courses or seminars or papers or something, that there were interesting things going on in the non-nuclear part of the department. It really was magic. We first had the best cohort of students. Secondly, of those, you got those that are attracted by Feynman, Dyson, and Bethe. Then you had the chance to talk with them, and see them in courses. Cornell is an extremely informal place, which is very nice. We could harvest some of that crop. Just magic. Just magic. But the physical plant was terrible, just impossible. People would come, including people from Washington working site visits and so on, shaking their heads saying "you can't do it in this building". Very shortly, in addition to trying to hire new staff, when we had to go ahead from university for a few, I put much of my effort into trying to get a new building. The university had given a model to the physics department in the '30's to try to keep us happy. It did not work. The model...you cannot do experiments in the model. It just shows sort of semi-interest. They did the same thing, and brought out a new model, but that was not helpful at all. I quickly came to the conclusion that we were going to have to do it with a combination of private money giving, which the university was perfectly attuned to, but it had to be a large part government money or we were just not going to make it. The little bit of private money, that was more or less fungible, had already been taken to build the laboratory of nuclear studies, Newman Laboratory, NLS. In effect, they had skimmed the cream already from that source, so we only had skim milk left. It appeared that we were going to have to use government money as well as private money. It was also clear that we needed to have some kind of base. Just as a single professor, I could not do much. I also became editor of the Journal of Applied Physics which took me aside for three years a little bit. Although it did not really take a lot of time.
Arne Hessenbruch: This is in the late '40's?
Robert Sproull: Yeah. Early '50's. It must have been early '50's, because I went to Oak Ridge on sabbatical in '51 to '52. It was after I came back from that. I am pretty sure. It was '51. No. It must have been after that. We were trying to do all sorts of things, but not getting very far. I went away on sabbatical, '58 '59, to Brussels, and worked at the European Research Associates Laboratory of the Union Carbide Company. The director and I were the only two Americans there. There were fourteen different languages being spoken. English was sort of the lingua franca, and somebody had to write reports back to Union Carbide every month, and talk to the individual experimenters that did not like to write up anything. I found out a very good learning experience, because I had to learn a lot of metallurgy, for example, because they were metallurgical - Union Carbide being "linty" and heavily into refractory metallurgy. During that time, things had come to a head. We had tried to get together some kind of center or unit that would be like a department that would give us the same kind of base that the laboratory of nuclear studies had - so that you had somebody that could go talk to the Dean on behalf of the faculty. The department chairman always had three things in mind when he talked to the dean. He had the solid-state group, which was only informal, and was not organized as a group. He had the laboratory of nuclear studies that was very organized, and in fact would go around him most of the time. He also had the teaching role, so that when the chairman went to the dean, the president, or the provost, he always had to dilute his speaking for us. We needed some way to get higher up in the food chain so we could tell our own story. That was on the way when I left. A lot of politics went on during '58 '59. I was delighted. I was in Brussels going around Europe for NATO, and having a great time. Working my dog. My students promised me...I had three graduate students still in the mill. They promised me on a stack of Bibles that they would be through by the end of August. Only one of them was. I was still doing their business during nights. During that period, and primarily through the work of Paul Hartman. When you go to Cornell you might want to talk to him. Is that name new to you?
Arne Hessenbruch: No.
Robert Sproull: Dale should have told you about Hartman. They are very close friends. He may be so close that he did not think to say that. Hartman can tell you how the organizing of these units, which was at a saving to the Cornell's materials work, and absolutely essential for it. Dale was chairman of the department of physics back then. Paul was working to organize what became the Laboratory for Atomic and Solid-State Physics. LASSP. L A S S P. Paul did the organizing of that. On the trans-Atlantic phone, Scott Mead agreed to direct it, to be the first director of it. I will never do anything on the trans-Atlantic phone again. I did a lot of telexing then, which is a satisfactory typing in things and then getting it back typing in. That is what you do now on email, and that is ok, but trans-Atlantic phones, in the days when it cost a fortune to do it, I will never do that again. I am always thinking of that damn clock running, and not doing the kind of due diligence that I should have done. It turned out all right ok, I guess, but only because Paul was a sweet, a very sweet individual. You should get to know him. He was really the organizer of the laboratory at the time of consolid...Dale was very benign, and I don't mean to anyway downplay that. Dale had the trust of the central administration. He was practically revered by the central administration. The fact that Dale was there as the chairman, and speaking for us, was absolutely vital. As I say, he had to think of several things each time he talked. Paul organized this, and signed up...This time, by the time he was on his way with this, Dale had become dean of the college of engineering, which then was very fortunate, because engineering then started getting off the floor, and dust itself off, and act like a real player. Paul pretty much engineered a situation where Limon Perot would become chairman of the physics department, and I would become director of LASSP, Laboratory of Atomic and Solid-State Physics, which would become then the spokesperson for the non-nuclear group of the department, which was mostly solid-state physics, but surface phenomenon as well, and a little bit of physical electronics left-over from the earlier days. A very interesting group of people, but not coordinated as a laboratory. We never did coordinate, in the sense that there was a laboratory director that told people what to work on. They were always were working on what they wanted to work on, and always getting their own money in the last phase. As explained in that little booklet, things were happening in Washington. Things were beginning very strongly in the summer of 1959. I hope I got the dates right. 1959. Yes. During the winter of '59-'60, the materials labs, the interdisciplinary laboratories, were conceived and the ARPA...So they started AEC, and it was the AEC stimulus and nursing that was absolutely vital. AEC did not have the authority to do multi-year funding of buildings. That was absolutely essential. Everybody agreed that the work on materials needed new facilities. They were not going to get it unless the federal government moved in, and they could not do it on a year-by-year basis, because you were not going to get any university to dedicate space in the middle of a campus for a building that they got the money ten percent at a time. Nobody was going to do that. That was where Stevens played a vital role. Even though he had been, as much as anyone, the architect of this whole program, he, like lots of government people do, treated it as if it was his own fief and he owned it. He cooperated in taking it over to the E-ring of the pentagon, where Herb York was the DDRE, Director of Defense Research and Engineering. He organized a group of meeting that "Stauna" participated in, and got the whole thing going. I see I have gotten off Sproull and on to materials, but I better go back and pick up a couple things on my career. The most interesting thing, in many ways, was the fact that at the end of the war, we started to try to raise the engineering college up. One of the ways of doing that, was that we had cooperation with Henry Booker and others in electrical engineering. They insisted that a course in modern physics be given to their juniors, electrical engineers. The assignment came over to the to the "physics" department, conceived a course in modern physics for junior engineers. And Lloyd, who was very busy then starting the engineering physics department, and consulting at RCA, and doing lots of other things, not all of which will fit into print, assigned it to me. So that became my teaching assignment. I had to start from scratch. There were modern physics text, the principle one was Rick Rickmeyer. Lloyd K. Rickmeyer. Rickmeyer had been a Cornell professor. Maybe I even have that here.
Robert Sproull: At that time Rickmeyer was a Cornell professor, and X-rays were his specialty. He had written the classic book on modern physics, which started with the history, things like the photoelectric effect and grounding motion, and so on. Coming through to the end with a little bit of nuclear physics. But the book was totally out of date by the end of the war. Also, it was directed towards people who were going to do their work in something like nuclear physics or possibly X-rays. It had no solid-state in it at all. Solid-state as a field had not been invented when the book was written, which was the early '30's. The only thing that I really owe to Rickmeyer is the idea of putting a bunch of historical things first. But that is not really a very original idea. And I chose a different group than his. Then the rest of the book is totally different, because it is really one-dimensional quantum mechanics. Just trying to get t'30's. The only thing that I really owe to Rickmeyer is the idea of putting a bunch of historical things first. But that the basic ideas across, one-dimensional. Doing the square well. Correctly. Doing the hydrogen atom by hand waving. Then going into molecules, which Rickmeyer did not do at all. Trying to understand what holds matter together, and what holds matter apart. That is what physics has to contribute to chemistry, the understanding of what holds matter together and what holds matter apart. I generated this course and started writing problems. I teach mostly through the use of problems, and generating material, most of which I wrote on airplanes while wandering around trying to make money and giving talks. Then I started the idea...The book publisher people always come around to look for new courses. They gave me the usual song and dance about why don't you write this up for a book. It seemed to be probably not a bad idea, because it was a new course, and because I thought solid-state was coming, and then in the mist of all this along comes the transistor and then I knew solid-state was coming. I started writing up my notes more thoroughly. Eventually, I put it in front of publishers. By that time, Slater had a book on modern physics, which we were looking for. So it must have been...That was already out then. I am talking about 1956, about 1956 or so. Just in the first edition. Because it was out and well used by the time I was in Europe. Slater must have been 1954 or '55, something like that. It was well known, and respected, but a quite different book from what I had written. It was much more advanced, and much less directed towards engineers. It was not directed at engineers at all. My book was MKS units, now international units, and all of the physicists said "uh". You can't do that! What kind of metallurgist are you anyways! I said, now look, this is the only thing that makes any sense if physics is going to be a topic that works it way into doing good for engineers. It is true that the charge of the electrons and coulombs looks crazy. Looking at PM junction, forward-reverse resistance in anything other than Ohms is absolutely nonsense. I stuck by my guns, even though at least one of the publishers did not know if they could publish it because of that. I chose Wiley in the end. McGraw-Hill did not offer me a contract until the very last minute, because they had the Slater book, and did not want to undermine it, and would not undermine it for the physics or any part. They would undermine it because a lot of engineers spoke de moiré, had been using it. In the end they decided to come aboard, but I decided that the Wiley salesmen were people I had got respect for by then. Let us follow that train for a little bit. The book is translated into four other languages, maybe five. It has gone through three editions by now. Although the royalties never made me much money, the knowledge of it...First of all, when Wiley became a public company in 1965, they got on board two outside directors. I was one of those, the other was their banker. I had become a Wiley physics editor earlier, after my book was published, which must have been '56. So, I had done a lot of ad hoc work for them, just on a consulting basis. Then I became one of their first two members of the board. That, I think, was more or less instrumental, I do not know how much, in becoming director of United Aircraft. I had also done some consulting for United Aircraft. They wanted a member of the board to replace Fred Seitz when he went to Washington. I think Seitz probably recommended me, but probably my name came up through the laboratory staff. I do not know. I never inquired. I became a member of the board there, that later became United Technologies. That is a big corporation. It was quite different than John Wiley and Sons. I had to learn a lot more to be an effective director. If you think that that is all fun and games then you do not read the papers about Henry Hutton. Fortunately...We got into some other messes, but always involving people. I am being too prolix?
Arne Hessenbruch: No.
Robert Sproull: Ok.
Arne Hessenbruch: I wonder, you have mentioned early on that you learnt some accounting. This is coming into the story a bit?
Robert Sproull: I learned that when I was 19 to do Tuttyright Association work. I recommend that to anybody that will listen. Some place along the line, learn corporate accounting. It is not all that hard. Just learn it. You will find a use for it. This is not coming into your job for United Technologies? Oh sure. Oh golly yes. Otherwise, I would just be off in left field as a technical guy who knew pickly-squeak about... Nuts and bolts. ...about what the outside accountants do, and what they don't do. And also how you can make the earnings come out anyway you want them if you work at it hard enough, and have the inside track. Accounting...I do not think of myself as an expert in corporate accounting. I claim to know enough about it that it takes a lot to fool me. Probably not impossible [to fool me], but hard. The United Technologies led on to other corporate things. I became a member of the board of a local bank, but that was more or less to be friendly to local community when I came here to Rochester. But also to Xerox, because I had become a Xerox consultant. Three of my students had gone to Xerox laboratories, and what frequently happens, they then hired me as a consultant. Maybe I will give you a paper later. Then, Bausch and Lomb, but that was much later when it was more or less dictated by the president of the university who some how became director of Bausch and Lomb. Well Charles River Laboratories, but that was a ganglion of Bausch & Lomb. I think I am missing one, but I am not sure what it is. Xerox and United Technologies were the big ones. Bausch & Lomb was a little bit less so. I found working there as a director had its own fascination. All of the other directors were scientifically ignorant. And I do mean ignorant. That is one of the problems with corporate America, they can be easily have the wool pulled over their heads by charlatans. I know one case, where I was asked by a local judge to come in, and I found out that I could not because it would be a conflict of interest. This guy, Ofchinsky, out in Detroit, who freely, fraudulently, took advantage of the ignorance, in this case of investment advisors, a local firm of investment advisors. Corporate America is really very vulnerable in the fact that they have so little science and engineering on their boards. They will find out. There will be a big Enron type of disaster, because they do not understand the first law of thermodynamics. That track was what gave us the freedom to move around etc. I spent half of a year in Florida, which did not come directly from the books, but as you see, it came indirectly from the book. That means we are able to give money away now, and do other things that we like to do. I think I have ruined forever the R.L. Sproull track. Let us go to the materials track.
Arne Hessenbruch: The year that you spent in Brussels, what did you do there?
Robert Sproull: I mainly acted as an impedance transformer between the staff and the director, and to some extent to Union Carbide back in America. On the other hand, I did do one experiment. I did a piece of work that was later published in Philosophical Magazine on dislocations. I managed, with the help of a very able guy by the name of Ed Kackenberg, a Flemish Belgian who was very helpful and the only real physics guy in European Research Associates. I did an experiment on moving a solid which had dislocations in it, meaning it was bent, and then moving the bend with electric fields to show that the dislocations were charged. There had been a guy at one of the red brick universities, either Manchester or Birmingham. He had written a paper for "Philosophy Magazine" predicting charge dislocation, and I think I found them. I did manage to get the paper out, but that was not my primary job. My primary job was to act as a translator. It was not so much the English that needed translation, as much the Union Carbide people back in United States had their own limitations, which were mostly metallurgically oriented. They needed help in understanding what the implications of this work going on in ERA really was. It was a very rewarding job, primarily because the guy, Roger Gillette, who was the director, was a Ph.D. chemist from the University of Michigan. He was an extremely able guy. He is retired and living in Brussels. He speaks French, Russian, and even Flemish. Flemish is hard, because there really is no Flemish that you can get a handle on. You sound almost Flemish yourself. Are you?
Arne Hessenbruch: I am Danish.
Robert Sproull: You are Danish? I know that Dutch, and then the many Flemish dialects, is a difficulty for the French speaking Belgians. If they had a standard language to learn, it would be easy, but they do not. There are hundreds of different Flemish. Our kids went to Montessori school there in Brussels. We were absolutely determined that they were not going to the American school. Everything was in French, but the second semester they had to take Nederlands as a second language. The only thing that you could do is get a dictionary, a Dutch dictionary, but it is Nederlands, not Flemish. All they speak in Belgium. The thing that made it really, was that Gillette was such an able guy. He was so well connected in Carbide circles as well as in European scientific circles. The Gillette's, Dorothy and Roger, were very helpful and very friendly to us. We had two kids in school. Mary and I both had school French, but only school French. I had taken up German, and I could lecture in German. I had a German major at Cornell as a by-product. Since I was going on for a year and a half, it turned out that Cornell had decided that no German, or any other language, for entrance could be used unless you had three years of it. I do not know why. [It was] Some faculty motion or something. If you had two years, it did not count. In high school, I had two years of Latin and two years of French. At Deep Springs, I had two years in German. So Cornell says you have no entrance language! Having gotten underway with German, and German being a scientific language anyway, I continued at Cornell with German, but was immediately in upper-class German classes. So I actually got a German major. I could cover German and French with relative ease. Nobody was using Dutch. I could handle the translating job. I could not do it now. I can do about half of German, but that is all. I can do French easily, travel French. Children, because they were just dumped into it... Our daughter speaks French, and you would absolutely think that she was raised in Brussels. It is not Paris French. It is Brussels French. Our son speaks, how should I say it, scholarly French. He knows all of the pu-perfect subjunctives, but he does not know the naughty words. And my daughter knows them. Who knows which ones are how naughty. I will tell you an interesting, maybe interesting, anecdote. The school where she was sends a child home every Saturday at noon. They did not have Wednesday afternoon classes, but they do have Saturday morning. The notebook that the teacher writes in, and right up to our Thanksgiving time, or a little earlier, she would be writing "very nice girl", "tries very hard", "works hard", and so on. But nothing on competence, just input. And then comes along a two word comment, "porfaux barbage." She started French! We are supposed to spank her. We cannot possibly spank her. We have to congratulate her. By Christmas time, Bob was telling Mary, my wife, "their French is deteriorating." They both made out real well. That was for one year though? Yeah. But they were so proud of taking this idiot who did not know any French, and converting him in one year, and they talked us into having him do the examinations for the "authemay", what the Belgians call lessee. He was eleven. It is eleven in the UK. I do not know what it is in Denmark. Don't you have that?
Arne Hessenbruch: No.
Robert Sproull: So you don't have it. It is a wicked system, but he took it and passed. They used that in their publicity. We can take this kid, and in a single year he can do the pu-perfect subjunctive. That pretty well does the R. L. Sproull thing. You can see, from what I said so far, that I am becoming a poorer and poorer physicist. It was very clear that when ARPA thing came along, which I will get into some time today, I was doing almost eighty percent of my time on getting money, going to donors, talking to Washington, and then the major thing, getting straight with the building, Clark Hall. I was in effect the strong client for [Clark Hall]. It was perfectly clear that I was becoming less and less of a physicist. The people that I brought in, and when I say "I", I mean Corson, and I, and later on Holkham, which you might want to talk to, although he is a little bit later. He would be good for later. Donald Holkham. You can see Corson, Hartman, and Holkham, all at the same retirement home. Kendall. They are all there. All are fully in charge of their own beings. So do not look down because it is a retirement home. It was clear that the good graduate students were going to go to people like Holkham, and Philsby, and so on...the people that I brought in. It was no fun just having the poor graduate students. So it was perfectly clear that I had to become an administrator, or doing something else. I had a number of jobs in industry offered to me, but I always turned them down. I had become an administrator whether I liked it or not. In 1963, Jim Perkins came aboard at Cornell as president. Dale moved over from dean of engineering to be a provost. I had, in that winter of 1962 and 1963, decided I should better get out of Cornell and do something else. I had gotten both degrees, undergraduate and graduate, from Cornell. I had been there, and checked with the war thing right along. I just did not want to die with my obituary saying that I could not move out of Cornell. Jim Perkins caught up with this, and Dale told him right away that I was about to leave Cornell. So Perkins insisted that I come in and talk to him, and he said, "Yeah. I understand. When you get to be that age, the desire to be repotted becomes overwhelming." That was about the situation all right. I was about to become dean of science at Wesleyan in Connecticut. I had some interest in [the job], and knew the president very well. I admired [Wesleyan] as a liberal arts college. But I had not signed up yet. Perkins said, "Give me a couple weeks." I said, "I do not know. Why should you bother?" "Well," I said, "I want to do it." He had very good connections in Washington. The first thing I knew, I had a call from Jerry Weasner, who was then the President's science advisor. He [Weasner] said that he wanted me to come down and talk. So, I did that. Talking with Jerry Weasner was mostly listening. Uh huh. [He was a] very interesting guy. He helped Kennedy get elected, and that means he had a different role as science advisor than anyone else. Don Horney, who replaced him as science advisor, did not help Kennedy get elected, and Kennedy was dead by then anyway. Anyway, Winter...
Arne Hessenbruch: When did he ask you down? When did he ask you to come down and talk to him?
Robert Sproull: Well, it would be February, probably, of '63. Ok. It had to be 1963. Now whether it was February or March, I do not know. Anyway, it was well before April. It had to February. I think. I went down, and he said: "Look, I want you to consider being assistant director of the National Science Foundation or director of ARPA." I end up being sort of today. I went around. In fact, it was two days. I went to NSF the first day and the defense department the second day. I was absolutely fascinated by this organization called ARPA. I had known only what they had done with us at Cornell. We must get on to the Materials and Science Center. You were involved in that also.
Arne Hessenbruch: Involved in it? Yes indeed.
Robert Sproull: Maybe we should do that first. Ok. Let us do that first. Following up the thread then, they were talking about the AEC, and so on, and the interdisciplinary laboratories. Dale was the guy that really did all of that the year I was in Brussels, [during] '58 and '59. It was not really set up until the winter of '59 - '60. [This was] when it was designed. It is all in there. Then we competed like mad. In the spring of 1960, we were putting together a proposal, for ARPA, for our interdisciplinary laboratory. And now, if I am under oath, I must be honest. When we say "we", I mean "I". That proposal was mine. Everybody was in the act, but it was my job to go to each place, and ask if they wanted to be a member, and if so, what they would contribute, and what their support was now, and how they wanted the management of the thing to look like, and so on. I did that person by person. It was the whole staff there: physics, chemistry, a little bit of mathematics which never amounted to anything, geology, metallurgy, and a little bit of electrical engineering that came up later. Went to talk to each individual, putting together then what their contributions would be. What turned out to be a very key element, in the competition, which was very much helped by Henri Sack... I have forgotten exactly in what way, but I do remember that he was thoroughly involved. It is Henri. H E N R I. Now dead, unfortunately. Sack. S A C K. It turned out that we had some...Talking into that machine I should have the numbers. The numbers were in the twenties, maybe the high twenties. of Ph.D. students after the war who had left. We knew where all those people were. They were all working in some way that took advantage of their education at Cornell. That turned out to be a key, I learned later from the people at ARPA, a key element in the competition. I do not know who had the idea to put that in. It may have been Henri. It might have been Dale. It could have been Hartman. It could have been anybody. That, I was told later, was a key element in the competition. We had then the research interests of all the people, [and] how they would contribute. Chemistry was a recurring problem. By recurring, I mean every day. There was a young guy over there, [by the name of] Porter, Dick Porter, who was very much interested in the whole idea of an interdisciplinary center, where you would have central facilities where your graduate students would mix and teach each other even if they came from different departments. He was very much interested in it, and a very hardworking, accomplished guy himself. He carried the ball for chemistry. The poor guy, the chemists did not know whether they wanted to be a member in it, or not. Frank Long, who was a chairman of the chemistry department, and a good friend actually. We shared lots of thing with Long. We almost built a house in the Caribbean to be with him, but Frank was very skeptical in anything involving the Pentagon. He was an arms control man, and a very important one, in fact a "pug washer". A very able and thoughtful and marvelous guy, but he just was not sure of this ARPA thing. He just thought it was a dangerous thing to get into: that they would be telling us what to do. He was not all that clear about it. He had the idea of having a joint physics and chemistry library, right in the border between a building that we were going to build and the chemistry building, and we were going to help chemistry remodel their building, which desperately needed it. They needed lots more fans and hoods. We were perfectly willing to put that in, even though that was the hardest fought part of the proposal, always. But Frank was not all sure if he wanted it. Porter had to move back and forth. He must have commuted between those buildings thirty times. I probably do not exaggerate. In the end, they decided to come aboard. It was that kind of activity that went on during the winter of '59 '60. Everybody, like Philsby, and Sack, and Holkham, and Hartman, and Corson, who by then was provost, were all on board and helpful and necessary. It is hard to see how we would run the biggest of the proposals if every one of those things had not fallen into place. Every single one of them could have probably nicked us. But they all were aboard, and what we saw ahead was a way of getting a new building. Also, we had the idea, we had the feeling that the business we were in, most of us, could not really flourish unless we had chemistry in it. And we were not going to get the money and support, unless we had engineering in it. So even if we wanted to stay as wall-to-wall physicists, we still would have to have all of those specialties in. I am not sure, but it just may be - well you could probably find this at MIT, which is probably the place that turns out will make me a liar, that I might be the only person with a physics contracted grant who hired a post-doc chemist. I do not know of anybody else who did, and I have asked around a lot. I found that if I was going to do the work I wanted to do, I needed a post-doc chemist aboard. Perhaps I had that message a little bit more vehemently than others, but everybody had that message, that there was going to be a lot of cross-discipline work to be done here. It seemed that for the first time, Washington had that feeling. They had the conviction, which we all shared, that we were going to need a building. And we were going to need it on the basis of long term contracting. We could not do it on the basis of year-by-year contracting. So those pieces all fell into place. The Cornell proposal was the biggest, and was the one that got the most support. I have forgotten the numbers, but it was funding that gave us the building within ten years. I am happy to say that that is ten years that we were honored. That is to say that the Pentagon honored the commitment for the full period. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been any. Well, I will go to the ARPA side in a minute. I better not get ahead of myself there. To continue the Cornell end of things, then the problem came of the building. By this time, there were too many mouths to feed at Cornell. There were too many areas who had the same history as the physics department. Namely, we had been put off, and put off, and put off. The administration had said, "Yes. We know you have to have a building, but we do not have any money for you, so you will just have to wait." Just about everybody and been in that. Geology had been in that position. Mathematics had been in that position. Chemistry had been in that position. Space science, which incidentally I do not think is a science because they are neither here or there, was in that position, and Tommy Gold was a great talker. The problem then came, if you are going to build a building of an interdisciplinary character, what about all those other people? That meant, that the building had to be a lot bigger than ARPA support. So, we had to get private support. Jim Perkins was very good on that. Dale was very good, and I helped. It was my baby. We got Val and Clark, whose money comes from Avon Cosmetics. In fact it comes from Mrs. Clark, Edna McConah Clark, who was Avon, Avon Cosmetics. They are great Cornellians. Hayes Clark has been a chairman of the board of trustees. We see him in Florida from time to time. They are great supporters of Cornell. We got money for half the building from the Clarks. That is why it is Clark Hall. The result was that we had to have space science, engineering, physics...I do not know. I counted them up seven once, and I also counted them and got eight. There was physics, engineering physics, LASS, the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid-State Physics, material science center, space center, chemistry, and on account of the chemistry-physics library as a separate unit, that would be seven. I do not know. There may be some others.
Arne Hessenbruch: Did you mention geology now?
Robert Sproull: No, but geology was not in the building, as it turned out. They were in the material science center, but not in the building. Except to the extent that they could come to the physics-chemistry library. Seven is good enough. There were seven clients for the building. In effect, and I say and shouldn't, I was the client. It was a strong client, worked with the architects, engineers, and donors. All, of whom, had to be satisfied. This was the building that they wanted, and it fit the federal rules. The boundaries between the various units, each person got what they wanted. You can imagine the architect considering the external shape of the building and appearance. The engineer, who had to fit in to where the sewer connections went, and so and so forth. The government who had to be satisfied that all the government rules were done. Cornell and the donor. In doing the building, I went around to, I do not know how many, six at least, more like eight, buildings that would be recently built mostly by physics departments, but some by chemistry and engineering departments, mostly physics [departments]. University of Illinois just built one. Brookhaven had just built a new laboratory. IBM had built the Almaden laboratory. I went around with a camera and took pictures of all these buildings, mostly of the engineering side of them, particularly the utility corridors that were developed at IBM, and a semi-corridor system at the University of Illinois. That is where we got the idea for the utility corridors of Clark Hall, which are still there, and still functioning.
Arne Hessenbruch: You mean down in the basement?
Robert Sproull: Yeah. Have you. I am sorry.
Arne Hessenbruch: I have been there, yes.
Robert Sproull: So you know that the tanks and the connections, and so on. The one thing that united all of the people, the seven varieties that I had imagined, was the hatred for physical plant. That makes brothers of everybody. We wanted the ability to run a new computer line into our room without ever going through the physical plant approval process, etc. So we had telephone dropped in all the corridors that dropped anything like COWAX into. And then the utility corridors were gases, and blowers, and safety equipment, and so on. So that all developed out of these photographic sessions. I put all of the photographs into a book, and gave copies to everybody who was involved. Everybody had a copy.
Arne Hessenbruch: Do you still have a copy?
Robert Sproull: No. Certainly not. But the Cornell people do. And I hope they have not thrown that out.
Arne Hessenbruch: So Dale might have a copy for instance?
Robert Sproull: But I do know what they have, as a matter of fact. I thought that book in forty years. It is a loose-leaf thing made up of sheets of paper with photographs pasted on it. Comments this shows the duty corridor system that Almaden is having. Incidentally, ruined by the fact that it has the pillars for the next floor in it. So you cannot wheel a tank through their utility corridors at Almaden. They support the buildings through there. To give everybody a crack at it... One episode that maybe gives you a sense of the flavor, flavor the way I operate, and the way Cornell operates... This got to be very complicated with drawing sets after drawing sets. We fly up...The engineers were in Buffalo. J. Prook Bound and Associates. Cornell always gives the business to Cornellians, and this was a Cornell engineer, up in [Buffalo]. A marvelous guy, but limited as the day is long. He was very friendly, very wholesome, and wants to do anything for you, wants to make you very happy, but he hasn't the clue about modern physics or modern laboratories. The university...This guy, by John Burden, who was vice-president of finance I guess, who had worked for the state of New York, but he insisted on having engineers on top of architects, for this building. He said he was going to be a working science and engineering building. I said, "Yes it is going to be a working science and engineering building, but not those engineers." Well, I lost on that one. In the end it turned out all right, because the architect, Charles Warner, and his assistant, I wish I could remember his name, something like Abraham..., were extremely imaginative, and extremely friendly. Warner could not have been better as an architect. The building is not a very handsome building from the outside. But it works. To give you a flavor of a key thing that happened, when we were going through one set of drawings after another, finally the boundary between engineering physics and physics, or LASS and material science, kept shifting around, as people said, "I just have to have this." "Have to have that." I said, "Look. We will all get together at our house, out on South Hill, and we are going to go through the set of drawings now, which is probably not the enveloped set of drawings, but it looks like it. That they had advertised as such. And you do not get a drink until you sign off on those drawings. And one of those guys were telling me, Gold... Do you know Gold? He was a great operator. They behaved. And it was almost midnight I think, but Mary brought out the drink's tray. That turned out to be the final crease where engineering physics and the library begins. Those were the boundaries. You will not find that, I don't think, in any documents, anywhere. You can ask my wife. She knows about it. I don't know the whole of who was there. Jim Cronance was there. He was by then the director of LASS. I was the director the first year. But then the second year LASS, I went over to become the director of the New York Science Center. He became the director of Laboratory of Atomic and Solid-State physics, which was one of the seven units, so he had to sign off. That was a great evening. But it worked too. I was thinking of something else, but I forgot about it now. The construction of the building became the centerpiece of our operations. If I say my all the time, I am sorry. The fact is that Corson, Hartman, Krumhansl, Sack: those were the key names. All of them were absolutely essential. If one of them had been missing, we would not have had it. On the other hand, none of them put their career on the line. Every one of them could have walked away, and said oh well we tried, and then go on. I could not. I was the one, that if this didn't work, I had to do something else. There were probably things I could do. I was not going to starve. That was the end of my career, that you have seen the build-up of it, now. So that is why, sometimes I stutter into "my" and "I" because there really is a difference. I emphasize that everyone was essential. Just that I was, just thinking about getting a drink. Well. I will think about it some other time. Do you want to take up ARPA?
Arne Hessenbruch: Let us take up ARPA.
Robert Sproull: Ok. ARPA was handed over this task,
Arne Hessenbruch: Sorry. No. Let me just ask. The way that you described the story now...What I want to ask you about is turf wars. The way that you described the story now is that you come out of physics, and you see an opportunity for money, for building, for the kind of thing that you always wanted. The compromise is to do interdisciplinary work.
Robert Sproull: It is not a compromise. I want to do that too. We have not got into the central facilities aspect of this. I was going to have those central facilities one way or another. If I could not get it this way, I was going to go some other way. I had to have separate facilities. I had to have a crystal growing shop. I had to have an x-ray identifications etc. shop. I had to have a computing center. I had to have a library that was tuned to my means. By me, now I mean not only me, but Holkham and Hartman and the others, Sack. They were doing work on nearly perfect crystals and electronic motions and solvents. We needed that kind of stuff. There is no compromise. The compromise was working according to federal rules, and putting a lot of effort into competing when you would rather have the money fall on you. That is where the compromises were. There were some compromises fitting things into that building, with all the other people. That was not a compromise to the government. That was a compromise to the fact that Cornell needed to put food into other people's mouths, and not just us the group of us in math and physics.
Arne Hessenbruch: Thank you. Let us do ARPA now.
Robert Sproull: Ok. ARPA. The handoff to ARPA was, as I said, from the meeting in York's office. Herb York was director in defense research and engineering. As far as technical things are concerned, [it is] the number three job in the Pentagon. You start with the secretary, then the deputy secretary, and then you have split off into assistant secretaries for all sorts of things: Congressional relations, international security affairs, system analysis, and so on. And one of those is the director of defense research and engineering, which is also an assistant secretary of defense. When you talk about weapon system or research; that is the chain, from secretary, deputy secretary, DDRE. His staff consisted of a bunch of deputies, which were functional deputies. Functional by air defense, for example, or strategic airlifts, or tactical warfare, or command and control. Each one of those is a deputy to the director of defense research and engineering. One of the deputies turns out to be the director of ARPA. He is not the air defense, or something like that, but he is the director of ARPA. He is two halves. He is director of ARPA, and assistant secretary...assistant DRE, Assistant Director of Research Engineering. As director of ARPA, he has a budget. In those days the budget was around 350 million dollars, plus some extras. 350 was the regular. It is now over a billion, over a billion and a half. I am not sure. It is much higher. The director of ARPA has the actual control of that budget, as if he was secretary of the Navy, and spending Navy funs. He spends ARPA funds. ARPA has contracting ability through a unit in the secretary of defense's staff, which I keep on forgetting. The guy by the name of Loftest ran it. The contracting authority... It can write contracts directly. It does not choose to for the most part, only rarely. I can tell you. The contract after the assassination of Kennedy which we wrote, comes in the other route, and we may come to that if we have time. Almost all of its work gets worked through the services. The reason for that is twofold. The small reason is to avoid having to have a contracting staff, and all of the bean counters that go along with that, and all the troubles that go along with that when the rules change, and you have to accommodate them to them, and the reputation you get with universities. So we did not want it for that reason. The larger reason was that everything ARPA does, if it is going to be harvested, it has to be harvested through the services. ARPA does not have a bunch of green sitters, or blue sitters, or brown sitters. [It has] no troops at all. If it is going to harvest anything, it has to be through the services. If you had the contracts go out through the services, the service contracting personnel and things like OSR and ONR, know the thing from the very beginning, and it is their project. Take some pride in it. They had some incentive to have it harvested. So that is the bigger end. ARPA is a very peculiar agency. It has essentially no contracting ability, by choice, and writes all the contracts through the agencies. We bragged about the fact that we could write checks the same day somebody came in. As far as I know, this was never done. Although it was essentially done in this one case with the assassination. I think the check was written the next day. I did not have to ask anybody. As director of ARPA, I did not have to call up Harold Brown and say I want to spend such and such money for such and such. I just had to do it. That spirit gets across to the deputy directors in ARPA, who were the real strength and center of the organization. It makes a different agency when you can do that. I will get into the spectrum of activities in a minute. When the director of Luker Text Detection, which is one of the big, and probably most interesting, of the ARPA projects, who was Bob Frosh at the time, when Bob Frosh listens to a contractor ,or reads an article in a journal, and suddenly gets an idea, or one of his people get an idea for something, it can be done to help nuclear test detection, in the areas he is interested in. All he has to do is call me up. He would do...He knew very well, that if he wanted to come in, he could do that. There was not any great big bureaucracy. I got so much confidence in Frosh, that if he said it was something he wanted to do, I said "go ahead and do it". You won't find that spirit very far in the federal government, and especially not in the E-Ring of the Pentagon. I inherited it from Jack Poulina, who is retired from MIT. You may know him. Technical Engineer. He was the predecessor. He was not the first director. A guy by the name of Johnston from industry was, but only for a couple of months. Then Cy Betts, who was a air force general, was director for a couple of years. Then Jack was director for a couple of years. Those people with York beginning too...Herb York really designed ARPA, I think. Harold Brown, who was the DRE and my boss, certainly had the flavor that I explained to you, in spades. He had been director of Livermore, and he knew how to run a laboratory. He knew how deadening it could be if you had a lot of levels of sign-offs. I really think that when I spent the second day at ARPA, and decided that it was such an intriguing agency that I had to give it a try, even though I realized I would be over my head right away. I did not whether a major general or a lieutenant general sat on top of one another. I had never served in the military. I tried to. I had commission in the navy in the War, but my draft board would not let me go. RCA was interested in building up a staff for television, and they wanted to hang on to people. It did not work. I quit as soon as the War was over. ARPA was delivered this thing without...I do not think that Jack Wiener had any choice in the matter. It was added to them as a budget. DDRD, that was York, said: "do it". Jack must have had to say: "do it". I do not think he was at all antagonistic. I do not think in a month of Sundays he would have done it as his own project. I think the chain of events that I described in the little paper was the way that the thing happened. He couldn't have been more energetic, cooperative in doing it. It was dropped in his lap. I think his attitude was, "Well, if we are going to do it, let's do it well." He had unfortunately...he did not have the best of staff. I am not going to talk about that. I could give you names, but I am not going to. I had to do something about that eventually. Jack was certainly on board. His program managing staff was on board. Don Hess, who was a program manager, could not have been friendlier to the project. Even Bill Bolton, who was one of the program managing types, and I am not talking names because I am giving you names, he played exactly by the books, but he did play. He put the text screen out on time. The correspondence worked. The project had to be defended from time to time. Other people in other DDRE, other assistant director, would sure love to have that 350 million worth of money. ARPA, or the money that the materials thing...I had forgotten now what the size of it [was]. I should know it, shouldn't I. Golly. I think the Cornell piece was ten million. Wasn't it? Yes. There were three of them, but ours were the biggest - slightly bigger than Northwestern and Penn State. So, there was 25 million. That is probably the size of the material program. But ARPA had other projects, right? Do you want me to describe them briefly?
Arne Hessenbruch: Please.
Robert Sproull: The biggest one is DEFENDER, the ballistic missile defense. This was long before the crazy idea of a shield, which did not make any sense at all. I worked very hard for ballistic missile defense, but not for that concept. DEFENDER was a task of playing the offense against the defense - trying to see what kind of defense one could put up, and then improving it, improving it, and improving it, then playing an offense against it with all sorts of crazy decoys, etc. The "pen aids" part had another name. I have forgotten what it was. DEFENDER was the ballistic missile part of it. It was primarily looking at wakes of incoming missiles. That was a science hang-up on the whole thing. How do you tell a missile coming in from a decoy, or a balloon of some sort? Wake experimentation was the biggest single piece of DEFENDER. And that was the biggest single piece of ARPA. We had this place near Quadra Lang in the Central Pacific, where birds came in from the West Coast. I cant even remember the name of the base there. The minutemen...the fake minutemen, the dummy minutemen went off from the West Coast to Quadra Lang or Anawetok, but Quadra Lang is where we had one island on the northeast corner. I have forgotten the name of the island. It was the Quadra Lang Atoll where we had the press radar that was run by the MIT radiation lab. A lot of our overseas staff was there. We tried to get all the information from wakes, which you probably know are very complicated things coming in. There is a lot of ionization in them as well as radiation. The idea was to try to see how you told there was a lot of mass there. If there was not a lot of mass there, you could ignore it. That was the heart of DEFENDER, but there were lots of other things. DEFENDER still has a piece of ARPA, or not? The next biggest piece was nuclear test detection: project VELA. This was set up initially to make it possible for the joint chiefs to stand up to Congress, and say in an arms control environment, where there is no testing going on, we can first of all tell whether the Soviets test, and secondly, we can protect the United States. We can protect against seeing...We can protect against they knowing more than we know. So nuclear test detection broke down into four packages, depending on the four environments. There was...They all had their code names. For example, high altitude atmospheric was called HOTEL. H [was] for high altitude. Project, U was underground testing. What were the others? Space?
Arne Hessenbruch: What was space?
Robert Sproull: I don't know. It does not matter. And then there is the oceans. What starts with O? By the time I got aboard ARPA, which is... I first went there in the spring for visiting, but first of the summer I started going there on weekends.
Arne Hessenbruch: This is '63 now, right?
Robert Sproull: Yeah. Jack had just left [on] the first of May. I did not know why he was anxious to get back to MIT. I thought, maybe, he was putting his name on the block for the presidency of some aerospace company, but I don't know. In any case, there was not any director then during the summer of '63. My appointment did not take up until the first of September, because I could not get away from Cornell. There was just too much, particularly that damn building that I had to do. I was not going to take any chances that it was not done to my specifications. I went down weekends the whole summer. By then, everything had settled down into underground, as far as a remaining testing environment, because the negotiations were proceeding into final stages of the other three environments during that summer of '63. I participated in a couple meetings with Frank Long for the arms control community that summer. ARPA's role was to support the three environments that were in the treaty, and to help the military to convince Congress that the U.S. could still be protected if we signed the treaty. ARPA's work was not my work. It was Jack's work. I was instrumental in hearings of September and October of '63, which meant that the joint chiefs stood up and said, "Yes. This is ok. You can sign." Kennedy did sign just before he was assassinated. That was a major ARPA role, but then ARPA's role was to continue the underground, mostly seismology work, because we wanted to be able to sign a total nuclear test ban. This work has no been harvested for the threshold test ban, that has not been signed, but is essentially in effect. That was still uniform.
Arne Hessenbruch: What was the deal with space?
Robert Sproull: The space thing came down in the end, to two satellites, twin satellites, which the essential work was done all by Los Alamos. The "deal" itself I think was TRW. I am not sure. It was one of the clinic California aerospace companies. I think it was TRW. There were two satellites put up to test any cheating by the Russians in space environment, but the only thing that happened was by third nations. Those were some of the first satellites that were put up with incentive pay. The longer the satellite stayed up, the more the contractor got. These turned out to be the most successful satellites that have been put up there. As far as I know, they are still there. They tested a South African test, which the South Africans denied. When Mandela came in, the people admitted that they had a bomb, and had tested it. ARPA's successful detection was waffled by the fact that the arms control community was just out of their minds. They did not want to have that admitted at all, that there was another player in the game. There was a special whole room and committee appointed, I think by the President, to analyze the event. The analysis came out, "well it is kind of puzzling, but we don't think it was a nuclear event."
Arne Hessenbruch: This is Johnson era now?
Robert Sproull: Yeah. This was score one and a half for ARPA, but they did not get a chance. That was the most interesting. VELA, the whole nuclear test detection, was the most interesting part of ARPA to me. I also was most interested in it, because Bob Frosh who headed it, I think, was one of the best of our associate directors. He was very good. He later became president, chairman, not chairman, the director of the Alamos research laboratory. Having been the UN unit, whatever it was, on the environment in Kenya for a while, and the director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he has had a lot of interesting jobs - an extremely able guy, and one of the most thoughtful people I ever ran across. I would send him up to Congress, for hearings when I thought we needed a presence, and to be sure that it went right. It always did. That was the most interesting part. The materials, we talked about. One of the things that happened, and this ought to be in your box, was that Harold had told me that I had to get rid of one of the projects, during my first year at ARPA. He had the message from York, pretty strongly, about what ARPA had to be. It had to be a life fluidity agency. It meant it had to give up things to get things. It also meant that, part of that strategy was to have directors that were there for a maximum of two years. Jack was there two years. I was there two year. Betts was there two years. Johnson was there about two months. That was in the early days when ARPA had all the big boosters. Before NASA was born, ARPA had all of those contracts. As soon as NASA was born, [ARPA] chucked them off over to NASA. I had to get rid of one project, he said, to keep ARPA's spirit, and keep its reputation up. I said, fine. That is good. Then I went home and tried to figure out what it was. Harold had in mind materials. He never came right out with that. This had been dropped on him, and it wasn't anything he had conceived. It was nothing ARPA conceived, so why not? I am not even sure exactly now. I think he must have said from time to time, something like, "it won't be all that hard. You just got one. It's easy enough." - something like that. I don't know. That is typical of Harold. You have to ask Harold what he thought. It was clear that I had to do this. Well had to... The angular momentum of the Earth was not going to change much if I did not, but I would not have the same relations with DDRE again. That is for sure. I thought very hard about it. I thought of a piece of DEFENDER, but DEFENDER was such a big [program]. Half of the ARPA budget was going into DEFENDER. To try to pick off a piece... Everything was just so expensive in it. It was also so much of an integrated system, that it just did not seem possible. There was project AGILE, which was under fire from everywhere, especially from the army. It was a Southeast Asia program to try to help the Vietnamese help themselves. This was before the U.S. got into the war. We were there as advisors. We had a military advising unit. What do they call them? MAG, Military Advising Group, I guess it is called. Just as we had a MAG in Pakistan, for example. We still do. I hope. The MAG was trying to help the Vietnamese help themselves. Project AGILE had been invented in the Vets days, but it might have been in the Arena days. It was a fast moving, light-footed project to try to develop equipment and systems, and tactics, for the Vietnamese to use, and to then train them to use them. We had a field unit in South Vietnam, in Saigon. There were about 30 officers and people there. We had 65 overseas staff totally. I remember that. I think about half of them must have been in Vietnam. AGILE was under fire thickest from the Army. They thought we were playing around in their backyard, and we shouldn't do it. We had an airplane over there. We had troops of the headquarters type. We did not have troops of field types. I can tell you more about AGILE in time. When AGILE slowed down and went away, when we went into the war, because we were not a field unit and all. We were trying to help them. Typical thing was that the Vietnamese always lived on rice and Noukman. Noukman being a stew, fermented soy juice of some sort, with fish oil in it. Terrible. I had to eat a lot of it. It was awful. There was this sauce that they put on their rice. They took it around in little coke bottles. The Coke bottle breaks, and it was glass. ARPA did the obvious thing, and gave them lots of polyethylene little bottles that a company here in Rochester, Nalgene, makes. This was a long time before I had any connection with Rochester, so don't talk to me about conflict of interest. It is not a clever idea. It is not even an idea at all. It is just what you do. The military wasn't doing it, and the MAG had not heard of this, and the Army was not in there yet. It was that kind of thing. That, I think, is the most outstanding examples. Field radios is one of the things. They did not have anything to do with field radios. All they had was what MAG had: old World War II equipment that they wanted to get rid of. The M-1, which was a World War II issue, very heavy rifle, weighed almost as much as a Vietnamese. They were giving them that, which is all the issue that we were giving them and helping them. We helped the foot soldier. Well if he carried that, then he couldn't carry any ammunition. They were throwing the rifles into the river. They were doing anything but carrying them. We tried desperately to get them to buy AK-47's. We never made it. We got close to it. We got another one, an automatic rifle, lightweight, but I have forgotten what it was called. The army was absolutely furious, because the Army did not even have these. They were the lightweight, post-war, foreign make... I am not sure even if they were Russian make. They were an overseas make of a lightweight rifle. We never did get anything but sample quantities of those things in. It was a major failure. Maybe they did [get them] after my tenure. Project AGILE was the most controversial part of our program, being the thing that I had to defend on the hill all the time. Because Cy Vance, who was the deputy secretary, was the former secretary of the army, he heard the army story over and over again. I would get called into the carpet when somebody in the Army had told him that ARPA was misbehaving. It was almost always because of AGILE. We had a little project that I started, on intelligence censors, which was a very messy kind of thing, because we had to be very careful to stay out of the way of the agency, the CIA. That was not as easy as you might think. If we had an ONR contractor of a various sort, I mentioned that we went through the agency. I had to be very worried that maybe CIA had some money in that same contract. I never caught them. I sure as hell worried a lot about it.
Arne Hessenbruch: Why would that have been a problem?
Robert Sproull: We did not want to be an agency that had dirty tricks as part of our package. If you go around getting support from universities, you know what I mean. We did not want to be painted by that brush. It was not the censors that they were doing. As far as I was concerned, it would be perfectly benign. You could not separate that out in the great unwashed. I think that is comprehensive of ARPA. There may be one or two small programs that I have missed. I only got around to the final, the thing called proponent chemistry, which was left over from when ARPA was a space agency. I looked at that very long and hard, and decided that was my pigeons. The whole chemistry profession was on my back. It seemed to me, that the chances of getting a major increase in specific impulse, which was a major part of what you are doing with propolence, ISP, seemed to me that that farm had been farmed, and farmed, and plowed, and plowed. Although doubtless there were going to be improvements, they would not have got much of the 15 million dollar a year program was going to do for them. So I chose that, and it was my choice, I could have chosen others. It was not quite enough to match the 25 million, but it was a program and it satisfied Harold. He kind of agreed with me in the end, even though he had been a sponsor of that program. [He agreed] that that was a good one to chuck off. The program that I was most fond of, and I in fact had considerable to do with, was information processing, which was called then command and control research. This is something that Jack Poulina had put in to try to bring the computer into the military bag of tricks. [It was] an excellent idea. Command Control, C cubed, Command Control Communication was something that the military did very poorly, and still now. More than anything else, the command control disaster may have been this forty killing that we heard about yesterday. I don't know. C cubed, which is now called C cubed I, for intelligence, is the Achilles heel of the military. Almost everybody agrees to that. Jack started this program which was called Command Control Communications Research. I had considered that as a possibility to solve Harold's problem, but had not gotten very far. A guy came along as the director of that program that had hired, by the name of J. C. R. Licklider. The trouble is, very few people have. Licklider, I think, is one of the heroes of the 20th century.
Arne Hessenbruch: How do you spell that?
Robert Sproull: L I C K L I D E R. There is a new biography of him called "The Dream Machine." It has nothing to do with your task here, but you really ought to read it. I had just given a copy to my blue eyed son, and he has read it, and says its a great book, and he is going to give it back to me when he comes in a couple weeks. Licklider was the director of this program - an interesting guy. This you will find, maybe funny; he is Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester. This, he understands before, I have never heard of the University of Rochester. In fact, I never even knew where his Ph.D. came [from], until I came here, which was in 1968. Licklider was a very interesting, very thoughtful, very imaginative guy in charge of this program. He was making it anything but a program in command and control research. It was a candidate for this shake me off thing. Lick says to me, "will you go with me, on a tour of my contractors." And I say, "I am trying to understand the whole goddamn ARPA machinery. I can't do that." He says, "I guarantee you that you will enjoy it, and you will think it was a good idea." By this time I had learned a little bit about Licklider. I had gone around asking people about people. One of these turned out to be very useful. I had, Sam Repenowitz, who ran the DEFENDER program, and was a very interesting and thoughtful guy. He had told me to watch out for a particular airforce general, and I can't remember his name now. Anyway, watch out for that guy! I just sort of filed it away. Several weeks later, he was giving me a briefing, and I asked him a question, and he did not answer. He answered a different question. I was about to say, "Now general, come on! Answer the question," when I remembered what Sam had told me. So I didn't say anything. I found out that as the briefing went on for another ten or fifteen minutes, that he was answering the questions that were about a fourth or fifth down the line that he knew I was going to ask. Oh God! I broke out into a cold sweat. I came that close to making an ass of myself. Oh, what is his name? I got to know him later, in the defense advisor board summer study, very well. He went into the arms control business, and was a very thoughtful guy. The hell with it! I did go with Licklider in the end. We went to MIT Lincoln Lab. We went to both Veranega Newman there. We went to Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and that is about all. I could begin to see Licklider's visions. Honest to goodness, you will not believe this because I am telling it to you, [but] Gold talked to Minsky or Poulina, at MIT, and asked them about Licklider, and about the ARPA program. You will find that ARPA Net, which is the forerunner of Internet, started as an ARPA program as networking. Networking was one of Licklider's ideas. Teleconferencing started there. Timesharing started there. Natural language, compiling, started there. All of these were Licklider ideas. Some of them he had help from other people and other places. He certainly introduced them to me, and introduced them to the defense department. He introduced them to the world, a great deal through his contracts. I tried to get him the national medal for technology. It was after I retired. I did not have a secretary. I obviously did not do it well enough. People that they gave medals to that year, I think, were just nincompoops compared to Licklider. Licklider convinced me that not only should that program be protected, it should be expanded and its name ought to be changed to Information Processing Technology. That is what we did. I got a beating from Congress about it the next spring. They took the attitude that you were now carving into the backdoor, and you were not going to serve the military, but just get funds for the mathematicians. I am sure it was a valid accusation, but it just happened to be wrong. There were just abundant applications for Information Processing Technology in Command and Control operations. The military would not know how to behave now if it did not have the things that came out of ARPA, Information Processing Technology. All of which they owe to J. C. R. Licklider. That is, as you can see, was my favorite program after a while, but it started out that VELA space was the most interesting. Now materials. We better pick up the thread on that. It was going to be a hard project to defend in ARPA. I knew very well from the very beginning, even before I became director. Certainly, when I went there as director, I saw what was going to happen to me just in the first year. I assumed that something like that would happen. When did the expansion occur from the...first there was the first three, then Cornell, Northwestern, and Penn State, and then there was a second bunch? The second [bunch] back away the second year.
Arne Hessenbruch: This was before you started, before you became director of ARPA?
Robert Sproull: Yes. That is true. There was a wave in '60. There was a wave in '61. There was a wave in '62. I went to ARPA in '63. I did not take any role in that part of the thing. That was one of the reasons why I needed a better director for the materials part of ARPA. Then I eventually got it. I could not participate. I could not participate in anything that had to do with Cornell. It was obvious that the materials thing was going to have to have some absolute first class protecting. I could not do anything really strong-armed, the years I was there. It was perfectly clear that as soon as I left, it was on the auction block. What do you do under those circumstances? ARPA should be the initiator, but not carry on into old age. It ought to find a friendly home for it. Transferring...You probably have never transferred a program in your life.
Arne Hessenbruch: No. That is right.
Robert Sproull: A lot of people think it is easy. As I say, in this little document, it is easy if the purpose of the transfer is to kill the program. That is not the first time that has happened. The whole idea is to kill it, so you say, "we are going to transfer it". You transfer it, of course, you get into different Congressional Committees right away. In the Congressional Committee structure, it is such that you cannot believe. [You have] probably been seeing this just this last month or two, when the President talked about a new structure with a secretary of home security. The papers started printing the number of committees that the new secretary would have to go for hearings. It was something around thirty. That did not strike me as unusual at all. I knew that would be the case. Transferring, you have to get permission of the old committee, you have to get permission of the new committees. Committees is plural, because chances are, your project will cut across several fields. Certainly this one: Airforce, OSR, ONR, NSF, and even HEW thinks they have a hand in the game. I started right away to try to talk to NSF to see if they would be willing to pick up the program, to see if they could. The answer was "no". "Go away! We have enough problems. We realize what you are up to. We know why you want to do it. Maybe that is ok for you, but it is not ok for us." I tried. Unfortunately, it would not have been the same world of Jerry Wiesner had still been the President's science advisor, but by then the President had been assassinated in November. Jerry, whose life went out for him as soon as Kennedy left, must have put his resignation on Johnson's desk the next day. Within a couple of months, he had gone. Don Hornag was in. Don [was an] interesting guy. I had known him in connection with some sort of summer studies of something earlier. [He] became the President's science advisor. He lacked two things. He had not helped Kennedy had elected, and he had not helped, the president in this case, Johnson get elected. Secondly, he did not have the information and the savvy for the federal government that Wiesner had. He did not have the ideas, and breadth of knowledge. He just wasn't the same guy. I had to try to deal with Don. It was an uphill fight to get nowhere. I had to deal with him later on the assassination, which I can tell you about in a minute if you are interested. It was equally frustrating, although in that case we went out all right. Hornag was not willing to take the bat up to transfer. He sort of semi-agreed that it had to be done. He was not willing to take any major role in it. After that, I had shot my wad. My term was up, and my successor, Charlie Hurtsfelt, had been my deputy. He was a guy that was only semi-friendly to materials. He is a Ph.D. chemist. He knew what it was all about. He was not the least bit stupid. His whole expertise and priorities were in DEFENDER and ballistic missile defense. It was only later that the other ARPA directors, very skillfully, managed the transition over to NSF. My hats off to them. I would not have believed it could have been possible. I was really gone when I left ARPA. ARPA, in order to be the agency that it was, it had to chop off projects - and Poupina's would probably be the first one. NSF either would not agree to it, or bungle the job. It is so easy to debacle it. It is such a complicated job. I do not even know the names, but you will find them out. The people who managed that transfer, really I am indebted, but only have my admiration. Let me see. What the devil did I say? I am afraid that it is not enough.
Robert Sproull: The building is as I would like it now, in retrospect, but there it is. It is a pretty building I guess. [It is] on page seven. You do not have to read it now. Yes. Well, skillfully. Yeah. Well, it should have been more.
Arne Hessenbruch: Why don't we do the assassination? You have alluded to it several times.
Robert Sproull: All of us were jolted at Thanksgiving time. Immediately, every associate director at ARPA started saying, "what can we do?" I did not have to call them up. Harold did not have to call me. We are a fast moving organization. How do we protect the President? I am not sure if everybody, but probably everybody, thought the second thought a microsecond later. This has to be done in such a way that Lyndon Johnson never finds out about it. He is running next fall, in less then a year from now, and he is a consummate politician. He does not want anybody to say that federal funds are being paid to protect him. I had no trouble coming to that conclusion. Harold had no trouble coming to that conclusion. All of my associate directors did too, which immediately makes the first job much harder, protecting the President. Everybody was challenged. It is very hard. It is not an easy thing. It is putting technology to bear on a nut job. It is a little bit like putting technology to bear on the Vietnam job. It is a poor impedance match. It is a whole technology show, and you are trying to put high technology in. We did not have many good ideas. All those that were good I could not talk about them anyway. I suppose [I could not talk about them] even now. I do not want to anyway. I am not very proud of our ideas. In the middle of all this, the officer of management and budget discovered that we were doing this. I do not know how they discovered it. My red telephone rang from Harold. They came, I suppose, to McNamara. They go high. He came to Harold. The fat was in the fire. We were called over. This was only the second time I was in the White House. The first time was out of VELA nuclear test detection, when the state department was mad at us because we were putting off an implosion in camp Chipka. This was the second time. We went over to Curan Gordon's office. He said, "What the hell are you guys up to?" We told them exactly what we were up to. We did not tell them the actual projects. He was not cleared for them. We told him the nature of what we were trying to do, and how we would try to keep it quiet. He said, "you cannot keep it quiet." "We'll keep it quiet." Harold pointed out some of the successes we had keeping things quiet. Incidentally, I was scared to death that we could not. I really did not think we could. I went through this whole spiel of questions and answers. The atmosphere was getting kind of tense, always with the question of what Johnson would do if he saw anything about it. There was a long pause, and Harold finally said, "Come on Curan. Tell us what we should do." He said, "well. There are only two things we can do." "You either fold this project up today, and I mean right now, or we go over his head." That is the first time, and the last time, that I ever heard anybody use the expression "go over his head" applied to the President of the United States of America. So we went over his head. I don't claim that we accomplished much. It is a very hard job to try to keep a politician, who wants to be openly available in open cars, and on the spur of the moment to change his plans, not to do X but to do Y, when the Secret Service is all lined up for X. It is a very hard job. I am glad to say that there have not been any real faults since, although there have been some problems. That is the kind of thing that the ARPA associate director and the ARPA director would not feel like they deserved another breath unless they moved in on it right away. That is what ARPA is. ARPA had its fortieth anniversary here a couple years ago. It is an amazing, that an agency has kept that same spirit for forty years. I would not have believed it possible in the federal government, or in any government for that matter. Forty years, and it is still a light-hearted, light-footed agency - no real scandal ever associated with it. There was a hot water once by some guy, whose name I have forgotten, who was director and had changed its name to DARPA, Defense Advanced Research agency, because he was negotiating with Congress to get it to be a civilian agency as well as a military agency. There was a lot of talk then about how American industry needed the kind of advanced thinking that the military, and especially ARPA, was giving. Why not make ARPA into a DARPA? I am sorry. Why not make ARPA in a civilian agency. The cure for it, in the end, when his ears were pinned back, was to say, "my god! We are in a deal with you. We will make it DARPA, Defense Advanced Research agency. I do not think it is. It is ARPA again. Isn't it? I am sure it is. The souvenirs that we got at the fortieth anniversary were all ARPA.
Arne Hessenbruch: Ok. Your role in materials research there was on a very high level of looking for protection and trying to find the transition to the NSF? It was not management of which university gets what or anything like that, that was further down.
Robert Sproull: Yes. The director, the associate director for materials at ARPA ran the competition. Right. The reviews were every three years I think. Wasn't there a review? It was three years. He ran those reviews and told me what the results were, but that is all. I did not participate one bit in it. I should mention that what I did do. I could not lay hands off completely. I started a program that I lot of kidding about, called Coupling. It was a small program. It was about six million dollars. It was supposed to connect the research in the interdisciplinary laboratories with actual products and processes. As you know, it is very hard, and it is hard if you do not do it within a single company. Within a single company it is hard enough. I went through this at RCA during the war when we had all the wind behind us. A new vacuum tube designed, to be built at Lancaster, the RCA tube works. In the end, we had to send a person with it, otherwise it didn't happen. I knew how hard it was, but I also knew that if you really wanted to have folks for this project, you need something to at least experiment with. How to do it, if there was some way that could be found. NSF tried this with a program called RANN, Research Applied to National Needs. It was a terrible program. I did not know whether I could do any better, but I wanted to try. I think it was a disaster, but I am not sure. I never could follow it up. I am sure it is not there now. It got a lot of backtalk, because of the biological meaning of coupling. I think there was some good work done on it, but I do not think it ever achieved a highway to make the results of the ARPA program more useful. I have to admit. I had an ulterior motive. Part of it was to build up a program that would help defend the interdisciplinary laboratories. I probably should be ashamed of that, because I should have nothing to do with the interdisciplinary laboratories. As an ARPA program, I think I had the right to think about how to defend it. One of the ways of defending it is to say, "Hey! Look here at what's happened, with such and such a program at the University of Pennsylvania, which now General Electric is making and selling." The glue to put that together came from the Coupling project. That was the aim, to defend the interdisciplinary laboratories with some real things that got to the consumer, whether the consumer was military or civilian. Preferably it was military.
Arne Hessenbruch: The whole argument seems very reasonable, that the philosophy behind the ideals really came out from how research was done in places like Bell Labs.
Robert Sproull: That is right. Which was product driven research. Then to implant this kind of culture into the university setting, the academic setting, was very difficult. There were two difficulties. One was turf wars, and the other was that it is not product driven. The two most effective mechanisms of cooperation that I know of are equipment, laboratories, central facilities, and graduate students, graduate students trying to come out another.
Arne Hessenbruch: That is for the interdisciplinary part? Not for the product driven part?
Robert Sproull: Right. Eventually the product driven is further ahead. There is a bigger reach. It is a longer reach than the Coupling. I have given speeches in which I have said the beginning of understand is when you realize that invention is not a product, and product is not an industry. There is a lot of going on that goes on in there.
Arne Hessenbruch: What did you try to do with your Coupling program? What was the idea behind it?
Robert Sproull: My idea was to find some people, who were experienced in development - who could reach in to, whose area might have been thermionic emission, or might have been information processing, could reach in, and do the ARPA work that was going on, and say "Hey! This ought to be pedaled to so and so who is in the business of doing X." There are ideas here, if harvested, will make his life easier, his product better, etc. etc. It would primarily be people, not institutions, who act as a transfer agency. It would end up as projects of course. A person would have his own project that he was working on, that might not have started this way. The magic of the interdisciplinary laboratories, to me, was the central facilities. When you go to Cornell you ought to look at them? They have changed somewhat, but some are still there. The computing facility is still there. The crystal growing facility is still there. Each one of them has a professor in charge. Each one of them has a technician, European style or Bell Labs style. Certainly that was one of the [places] where Bell Labs were the motivators. Was it just one A, etc., and we would have to compromise. One of the motivators was to get technician help, a la Bell Labs or Europe and Japan. I hired a technician from Europe, from Germany, on my project before I left the bench. I brought in a professor from Germany, a very able guy, now retired. I think of him as a kid. Together we hired technician from airline. I hired a technician from airline. It was very helpful. I think he is still running the crystal-growing lab, although I am not sure. He just retired within the last year.
Arne Hessenbruch: What is his name?
Robert Sproull: Gerhard Schmidt.
Arne Hessenbruch: I think I will want to talk to him. I think I would like to talk to him.
Robert Sproull: All right. I can tell you why I can remember his name. Are you not interested?
Arne Hessenbruch: Go ahead.
Robert Sproull: We could get a salary for this guy on a contract, but there was no way I could get his travel expenses for coming over here. As a German, a young German, he had no capital whatsoever. He was not married. He had no house. He had no capital, car. He had no nothing. The question is, how do you get his travel expense over here? I could have put it up myself, but I did not have so much money. Probably a bad idea. I just had come back from Belgium, and knowing the European system. You know the Société Anonyme right? So I Société Anonymed Gerhard Schmidt. SAGS. S A G S. So, Société Anonyme, Gerhard Schmidt. And each one of us put in $100 into the Société. He paid us back in a year or two. A lot of people say he would never pay him back. Hey, so he never pays us back?! But, he did pay us back. The Société then abolished itself. That is how I remember Gerhard Schmidt. The technician help and the central facilities was a key thing that we were looking for. We were going to get it one-way another, but to try to get that by putting together funds. I had started an electron microscope lab earlier, before we got the money from ARPA. I got money together for two RCA electron microscopes. There were the standard, and the only thing until the Japanese got into the act. I insisted on two because I had enough experience with electron microscopy to know that if you hired an electron microscope man, the machine would always be torn down while he was modifying it. You would never get it used for what you wanted it. On the other hand, if you did not hire an electron microscope man, you were not going to get the full value out of the machine. So we had to have two machines. I put together money from all sorts of sources, including some Kodak money that I had, and bought two RCA microscopes. They cost $75,000 a piece. That was real money in those days. That was really hard money. I already had some experience putting up the lab, giving him a technician, professor in charge, a technician and adequate equipment. There is no substitute for it. That is what the division we saw in the interdisciplinary laboratories. Not everybody said it was all the same vision. Some people saw it as another source of money, a locally administered source of money. That was very effective too. I will defend to the death local administration. It is much more efficient and effective than Washington administration. I was delighted to learn...I went to a party at Cornell two years ago to celebrate Dave Richardson getting the Nobel Prize. Bob Richardson was there, and came up and said, "I want you to know that the work I was doing, which I got the prize, I tried to get NSF support, and could not. The only support I could get was the umbrella support from the ARPA contract. How's that? No compromise. I am sure that made you feel good. You have a plane to catch.
Arne Hessenbruch: I have a plane to catch. If you would briefly say what happened after your stint at ARPA. This is 37 years ago. Something must have happened after that time.
Robert Sproull: To me, or to it?
Arne Hessenbruch: To you first. I need to go to the John for one thing. That is all right. I can hold that for a little while longer. Make it brief.
Robert Sproull: I went back to Cornell. I was on leave from Cornell, but only for one year. Cornell only gave one-year leaves then. I was really exposed, but I didn't care. The ARPA job was interesting enough. The repotted business is strong enough. I wanted to do it, although I had no protection. After I went, they extended the leave for another year. Corson had come in as provost. I don't know that he ever cut any corners for me, but he certainly did everything he could do friendly. Perkins was reworking things, and being very much interested in undergraduate education. He created a vice president for academic affairs. The guy in that, Requeast, had just quit and gone out to be president of the Detroit branch of the...I have forgotten. He had quit. He offered me the job of vice president for academic affairs, continuing as professor of physics. I could have graduate students, but obviously I wasn't going to. I didn't. I did that. I continued to teach. I taught the atomic physics course for physics, chemistry, and mathematics majors in the sophomore year. I had to teach that at eight o'clock in the morning, because Perkins nearly owned me by nine o'clock. It worked out all right, although I had some frightening experience around twelve o'clock at night not understanding what I was going to say the next day. You know that. Any junior faculty knows that. I was vice president for academic affairs for three years. I largely focused on two things, improving undergraduate education. There had been various riots. It was before the black riots - although they were building up. Also, a program trying to make tenure something that was sorted out a lot more carefully than they had ever done before, particularly in the upper colleges, the state supported schools. Four of the colleges at Cornell are New York State supported. They were giving tenure for just catching flies. They were not paying attention at all to what they were doing. As a result, they were getting the place just full of people that were not only sleepy, but asleep. That was the two major parts. I sat in for Dale from time to time. It was a kind of assistant provost in a way. Frank Long, the vice president for research, was chair to outer office. I worked with him on new projects from time to time. By '68, when I got a call from Alan Wallace, the president at Rochester, he said that he would very much like to talk to me about coming here as provost. I said, "No. Thank you. I am flattered, but I am up to my kazoo here, and I just really do not want to move. I am just wasting your time. So, thank you anyway." That was it. A couple months later, I started thinking, what am I doing here? Am I going to stay at Cornell for the rest of my life? As vice president for academic affairs, as a squishy thing anyway, it can come or it can go. I don't have a chance of getting back to the workbench. I just don't have the stuff anymore. Probably as a mistake, almost immediately a call came from Rochester, about becoming provost at Rochester. They had tried a couple of people. John Wilson, who had been deputy director of NSF, was one of them. It was that or a dean at Chicago. They approached him, I know. They probably approached others, and turned them down. It came back, and I said, "let's look at it". Alan Wallace came down, and I enjoyed talking with him. I knew about Alan. I respected him as a statistician and an economist. I had no respect for his politics. His politics are somewhat to the right of Barry Goldwater. He has principles. I learned that from his Chicago staff. He is a very smart economist. He just happens to be way over on the right side of the road, maybe he fell off the right side of the road. I talked with him. I was very much taken with it. It fit right in with our plans. We had started to build a cottage on Cuba Lake. We could not think about moving away from the cottage, in a way. We liked upstate New York. In many ways it was a stupid thing to do. The predecessor, the provost, had been fired, because of a to do over recruiting for central intelligence agency, CIA. The previous Christmas they had fired him. I knew that I had to get along with the students, with the faculty, and Adam Moss. That is not going to be easy since Alan wants to call the cops. I figured since he was a man of principle, I could afford to take the risk. It turned out all right. The first two years, I spent most of my time trying to keep the peace, keeping the faculty happy. The local companies which we would get lot of support from - or did in those days. They are not so healthy now. Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, and Xerox. I thought that we ought to put a big cycle and fence around, and having everybody, including the students, have ID cards. You know: it works. "Why don't you? You could get all your lectures. No one would break up a lecture." We were going to do it. I spent all of my time just keeping it an open university. Keeping Alan off my back. One occasion that was bad, he turned out to be giving a speech some place, so I had free reign for a while. We never did call the cops. We never had any serious damage. We had a student strike, but you could not tell it. Nobody knew. The Eastman school music has nothing but professional students. They audition to come in, and look forward to a professional job. When the student strike occurred, the only call that I got were from the River Campus, that is here, faculty. They were worried over the fact that I could not turn off the war in Vietnam, which is what they thought I ought to do. I couldn't for some strange reason. The students at the Eastman School called me. They wanted to be sure their violin teacher met the class. That is all they were worried about. They were professional students. The medical school, and the Eastman School dominate the total university. You cant tell that to the other campus faculty, but that is true. Each year it got to be a little bit more educational, and a little less keeping the peace. By the time I retired in '84, it was not a bad job at all. I insisted on retiring, though I was asked by the board to stay on, because Don Hess, a program manager that I mentioned before from ARPA, but I hired him here when I came here as vice president for administration because I knew what a good job he would do. The business of retiring promptly...I thought I had to retire promptly at the age of 65. Don Hess and I had bumped the Claude Pepper legislation, that says 65 equals 70. Then, the next thing, was that 70 equals infinity. Those were the two Claude Pepper pieces of legislation, which just increased the cost of a university without doing anything else. You have to negotiate, which we had already been doing, but it just increases the cost of negotiating. We never considered that a person died when he reached 65. We just thought, you sit down and negotiate with him for what his role in the university is going to be now. You have some arrows in your own quiver, which now you don't. All the arrows are in his quiver. It is not too bad, but it isn't too good either. Having bumped that legislation, I was determined that I could not stay a day after the old faculty rules of 65. So I did that. I haven't done anything for money since then. I have done a lot of advisory work through the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation. International Executive Service Core is the most interesting, because Mary and I did missions to Kazakhstan and the republic of Georgia, under IESC. Which is fascinating. I am not sure if I would go back to either places now, because of them becoming more dangerous places. We went and did that.
Arne Hessenbruch: When did you go?
Robert Sproull: About five years ago. First to Kazakhstan, then to Georgia. Fascinating. The missions were quite different. You know the International Executive Service Core? They are primary sponsored by USAID, but some corporate money in too, and private money. They send people. The typical thing they send is say a guy who was chief engineer of a tire factory here, retired, and some African country who thought they are going to make money by making tires, and they build a tire plant and it doesn't work. IESC sends over a guy that makes it work. That is their nitty gritty, but they also have a lot of funny things too. We got funny things. I have never run a tire factory, for example. Kazakhstan, it was to remodel and connect to the West the Kazakhstan Academy of Sciences. It won't come to a surprise to you, that I didn't do that. I tried, but it is absolutely impossible. The Kazak Academy of Science, like all Soviet Academies of sciences, is just a disaster. It is a show off of trying to get a little something to say after your name, some letters to say after your name, and do nothing. [I was] fascinated by going up and down the halls. The Academy of Science is kind of a cross between an academy of science that we understand it as an honorary thing, and our national labs, which is half units on this, and units on that. It is a cross between the two. In their labs, I went up and down the halls, and from time to time I asked people what went on there. They would go, "ehh". I would say, "Let's open the door." We would open the door, and there would be three people having coffee doing absolutely nothing. It is a disaster. When they got their independence in '91, they were left with this archaic system. There is something like 42 institutes in the Kazak Academy of Science. Each person wants to have an institute, because with an institute he gets a car, and he also gets the chance to do some overseas travel. Nobody else in the institute can travel overseas. All the younger people are completely quarantined from where science is really going on. I tried, and I did a lot of work after coming back here to try to connect them with the societies to get their journals. When '91 came along, they lost all their journals. The West journals I knew, because I was editor of Applied Physics for a while. We had one subscription in the Soviet Union, and it went to Moscow. When I went to Kazakhstan, and went to the library and saw all of these miserable reproduced copies in their library. Even those came to an end in '91 when the Moscow operations had quit after independence. They didn't have any idea about what was going on outside. They still thought they were academicians. We got some of the journals started, some of the societies were willing to give the libraries, two or three libraries, free copies for a while. They did not agree to it for very long. I guess we got one for two years. We got started. The only hope those people have is to have somebody in this country, England, Germany, or France, preferably this country, who was in the same field, who looks at some of their stuff, and say, "this is kind of interesting. Why don't you come over for a visit to my lab?" Then helped by putting his name on a proposal. NSF has a special program for this sort of thing, where you put your name on jointly with a Kazak to get him started. You have to know somebody in this country, who is in the same field, and you have to had done work good enough so that he is impressed. Most of them can't make that test. In Georgia, our mission was totally different, but equally interesting. It was to help five young people start a RAND type of organization, except with no military complications, just economic, and industrial. RAND. You might ask, how do I know anything about that? I know something about that, although not much. IDA. I was director of IDA, Institute of Defense Analysis, for many years, member of the executive committee. I handled a bunch of RAND contracts from ARPA. RAND was a big contractor of ARPA. The adjacent organization, we carried on our shoulders from ARPA. I had some experience, but not a lot, of putting together a not-for-profit think tank. The magic about that, was that these five young people, were patriotic. I had never been as close to patriotism to that extent before. They wanted to make the country go. Their salaries were forty cents a month of our cents. Their only way to survive was a family. They had a family who were farmers. They just wanted to do this. I could help them because they did not know how to do any contracting, to describe themselves. They didn't know how to deal with indirect costs. They had never heard of indirect costs. They never considered the idea that you might add to the direct cost something that would keep the institution going. There was something that I could do. I am very leery about Shevardnadze in control now. The good thing about was that I reportedly directly to Shevardnadze's deputy. I saw him for about twenty-five minutes one-on-one, a very impressive guy. Patriotism and good leadership, but sure uneasy. They are in a dangerous part of the world. I had known, but it was drilled into me, there was no such thing as the Union of Socialist Republics. It was an empire. That was really drilled into me in both countries. Kazakhstan, they are a rich country with oil, gas, copper, gold, zinc, tin, you name it, they have it. The mountains have all the minerals. The lake has all the oil and gas. All of this was bind with bad jobs, and raw copper, booster copper, or even copper ore, was shipped to European Russia, where it was refined and made into copper sheet and copper tubing, copper wire, electric motors, and sold back at outrageous prices to Kazakhstan. The good jobs were in European Russia. It is just like an empire. It is just like we behaved with Africa. Georgia, the same thing, but with a little different illustration. They built a new town called Rostobi just east of Tblisi, a big city. They built, twenty or thirty of these Soviet style apartments that are 11 stories high and a quarter of a mile long, forbidding apartments. Moved the people in, from the outskirts, and let the outskirts go to rundown condition. Built an iron and steel empire building, military tanks and guns, industrial tanks, and power equipment, heavy equipment. You name it, anything big and heavy that is made out of steel or copper or aluminum. It is a huge industrial complex. It is now... The Russians just walked away from it, just walked away. The people are still in apartments living on money from the US and OECD, the European Union. They have no jobs. You imagine the morale of that, hundred and thousands of people with no idea what is going to happen. The wire from the transmission lines have been stolen. All of the factory windows are broken. The roads hardly exist from one place to another inside the complex. Just turn it loose the way that we would turn loose an African republic we did not like. It was interesting missions. We got a lot of fundraising for this little school, and a certain amount for Cornell and the University of Rochester. But, that is about all.
Arne Hessenbruch: Thank you very much. That was fun, actually. I really enjoyed it.
Robert Sproull: It wasn't too much of me?
I think I should explain this to you. Let me tell you about it. In some ways, it is important how all of this got started. A group called the Solid State Science Advisory Panel of Opposite Metal Research was a group that traveled around to Navy Laboratories. All of us were Navy contractors with four grants that were still contracts. The idea was to improve the morale of the Navy laboratories, and connect them all to the great outside world and keep them from being too narrow. It was a good idea. We were kind of interested, because I was always interested in hardware amongst other things. They flew us around the country. We probably did some good to the laboratories. By June of '57, we met at Oak Ridge. We broadened out to not just Navy laboratories, and everybody was crying badly because federal support had dropped very sharply. It had expanded quite a lot since the war, because of the creation of new agencies. A new agency would come on the line, and saturate. Then another would come on the line, and saturate. You add all these up, and it was a steadily increasing pool of resources for contract research. The universities did not appreciate how that it was going to stop. You could not keep making new agencies. Here is, in fact, the way it happens. ONR comes along and stops, and then you add another one, and another one, and another one. OSR was a big one here. Then they were starting down. The question is, what could the solid-state panel do about it? We agreed to set up a committee to get together to show that the Solid State area was one of promise. That there was lots of room out there for additional interesting things, concerns and interest. I was a chairman of the group. The group where all people were members of the panel. Almost in every case, except for "Greken Rays", were people that were feeding at the public trough. We all had to win our grants and contracts in one sort or another. It is a kind of routine, "Give us more money. We have lots of interesting things to do." Each appendix was by a different person. I wrote the introduction, and put piecing of it together, but I wrote one of the little ones. The real guts were the appendices by other people. It was a run of the mill report except for one thing. In fact, some of my some called friends accused me of being a Russian spy. (Laughing) I see the timing... It was so accurate. Instead of a normal report that would be dropped on everyone's desk, and going into the file. Instead everybody said, "What can we do! What can we do! We got to do something!" It had a very interesting effect when starting a lot of people thinking of how we understand work on solid-state physics. Why don't you borrow it, and send it back to me due course.
Arne Hessenbruch: I think I will put it up on the site.
Robert Sproull: They are a collector's item now. People have asked me for them, and I have refused them.
This page was last updated on 5 February 2004 by Arne Hessenbruch