[Bowen with Ed Purcell and Doc Ewen]
Bowen with Ed Purcell and Doc Ewen (Photo courtesy of NRAO/AUI/NSF)



NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with E. G. "Taffy" Bowen
At Bowen's home, West River, Maryland
June 22, 1978
Interview Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Transcribed by Pamela M. Jernegan

Note: The interview listed below was either transcribed as part of Sullivan's research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009) or was transcribed in the NRAO Archives by Sierra Smith in 2012-2013. The transcription may have been read and edited for clarity by Sullivan, and may have also been read and edited by the interviewee. Any notes added in the reading/editing process by Sullivan, the interviewee, or others who read the transcript have been included in brackets. If the interview was transcribed for Sullivan, the original typescript of the interview is available in the NRAO Archives. Sullivan's notes about each interview are available on the individual interviewee's Web page. During processing, full names of institutions and people were added in brackets and if especially long the interview was split into parts reflecting the sides of the original audio cassette tapes. We are grateful for the 2011 Herbert C. Pollock Award from Dudley Observatory which funded digitization of the original cassette tapes, and for a 2012 grant from American Institute of Physics, Center for the History of Physics, which funded the work of posting these interviews to the Web.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event.

Sullivan

Ok, this is continuing with "Taffy" Bowen on 22 June 1978. Part two, part one was about five years ago. I've just got some odd questions based on looking at the transcript of Part one. Let's just go through these in order. I was wondering if you would comment more specifically about how you see the relationship between the development of radar during World War II and before and the early radio astronomy, the first five or ten years of it? Is it fair to say that the one is a direct outgrowth of the other? Or just how do you see that relationship?

Bowen

Well, I think it would be fair to say that it is a direct outcome. There was the British precedent, of course, which we know about and which I shan't go into, with [A. C. Bernard] Lovell and [Martin] Ryle and [James] Hey involved, straight out of war time radar. And in almost exactly the same way in Australia, the work at the Radiophysics Lab, which was predominantly a radar laboratory, which, as I might have described before, was really lucky at the end of the war in having a clean break from military responsibilities and going into several research activities. So there was a very specific step taken: let's take a look at all the possibilities research in this field, including ionospheric which was the responsibility of the Radio Research Board, and we did several reviews, I can't think of the total number of projects we had in mind, but it was a lot, like ten or twelve, which we might have followed up. All of these were very carefully considered and worked through; in many cases a start was made, we actually tried a few of these things.

Sullivan

What were a couple of examples of things that did not pan out?

Bowen

Well other than radio astronomy, I would say navigation, of course, which did pan out with several aviation activities, and of course it's come back again in the [Interscan?] in the late 1970s. Resonant cavities- in fact, we made the first million volt single cavity accelerator.

Sullivan

Is this what [Bernard Y.] Mills worked on?

Bowen

That’s right and the original paper on that is in Nature. In fact, I was involved, my own name was on it, and I was involved myself. That was successful as far as it went, but we frankly missed the multiplication process. We didn't see how to multiple by ten, otherwise we could easily have been in the linear accelerator business.

Sullivan

I see. Why didn't you follow that one up, for instance?

Bowen

Two reasons- one is that nuclear research, of course, was becoming the province of the Atomic Energy Commission, so we tended to pull away from anything nuclear, although this was particle acceleration which is slightly different. And secondly, we thought very hard about how to multiply up and we missed it. In fact, I can recollect the miss but we couldn't see how to focus the beam, and of course, it was boys like Lee Alvarez who...

Sullivan

Alvarez at Berkeley?

Bowen

Yes, at Berkeley, who thought of the scheme for keeping the beam in focus and once you take that step, of course, the linear accelerator follows. So, well, there are a few examples of the kind of things we tried, but the criterion for going on with it, of course, was success. And the things that [Joseph L.] Pawsey was trying on the Sun and Bolton on point sources were so outstandingly successful that that's the way we went.

Sullivan

I see. Now the original list of choices and then the decisions to keep them, was that a group of people that made the decisions or pretty much yourself?

Bowen

Relatively small numbers of people, myself particularly. But with Pawsey and a few others, I would say it would be a very small group of people who were directly involved.

Sullivan

So the only criterion was success, and you didn't really care whether it led you down one road or another?

Bowen

No, it wasn't, and we had the freedom. I must say we had a large number of first rate staff as a handout from the war, and the encouragement to find new projects of that kind.

Sullivan

Let's follow this general question up into later years. What was the decision-making role, particularly of you versus Pawsey, as time went on in deciding whether something should get funding and manpower support? Did it vary or was there some definite pattern?

Bowen

I would say that roughly the same criterion would apply, that is, either success or the possibility of success. Now to give an example, any of the early multiple antenna interferometer things, were clearly a [?]. And since they involved relatively small financial obligations, very often the equipment that was on hand or very easily made...

Sullivan

Are you talking about, for instance, when Mills had his microwave link and...

Bowen

Or some of the preliminaries that led up to the very first Cross, the small Cross at Potts Hill...

Sullivan

The model yes.

Bowen

Yes, the model. Things like that. So let's say that the expenditures and the manpower involved was comparatively small, well within the capacity of our labs, no big decisions had to be taken. If it worked, and even Mills was not confident that the first cross correlation would- that was the trial to see that it would work. So that there was no great commitment from the start, once it looked like working, well we were onto it.

Sullivan

So in general, you and Pawsey would be in agreement on this. It would be pretty clear.

Bowen

Right. The same went for the spectrographic work, by exactly the same process. And there, of course, we had, again, a background of radio intercept work scanning.

Sullivan

That's right, you mentioned that before, about your suggestion...

Bowen

[?] In days almost or a week, the things were away and flying, so the decisions were so easy to make under those conditions. Another example which you might have come across, which didn't work out, of course, was the suggestion made more than once that, countering the Ryle situation, that it was the Radiophysics boys who first thought of aperture synthesis, and there are some sentences in an early paper of Ruby Payne-Scott and Pawsey and [L. L.] McCready, which can be interpreted that way.

Sullivan

Yes, the principle that the brightness distribution is the Fourier transform of the visibility.

Bowen

Yes.

Sullivan

Yes, it's right in there.

Bowen

Yes, it's there all right. But it was never a concept. Nobody came and pounded on my desk and said, "Look, we've got...," you know. So although the thought was there, I'm just trying to draw the distinction between things that we did follow-up and things that we didn't. There was literally no decision on that. It never came up in any forceful way.

Sullivan

It just occurred to me that I found from the files and also from talking with John Bolton that he wanted to have a large dish at one point on a cliff. And that one was not funded. Now, what was the reason for that?

Bowen

Money. Let's say that at that time there were a multitude of such proposals going around, holes in the ground and God knows what were being suggested. And up to a certain point in time, which time I find hard to define, whenever money was involved, it was out the window. So that one can think of pre-1954 or thereabouts, when if someone wanted to spend $100,000 it was, "no." There was just no way. Which goes back, of course, to funding, as far as CSIRO was concerned, and this was CSIRO-wide. That the whole organization was very well set up for salaries and operating have I told you this before?

Sullivan

Yes.

Bowen

But capital, even new buildings, anything you like, or a new piece of equipment, was very, very difficult to get across - politically, I mean. It would have to go well up into the parliamentary process.

Sullivan

Well, you mentioned this before, and in fact, I wanted to ask you this time, why was this situation this way? Was it just some peculiarity of Australian governmental organization?

Bowen

I think it was yes, a peculiarity that...

End of Tape 106B

Sullivan Tape 107A

Sullivan

Continuing with Taffy Bowen on 22 June ’78. So why did this situation obtain...

Bowen

Well let's say that for historical reasons the thought of continuing to give salaries, operating expenses, and so on to research organizations, presented no problems. From a budget point of view, we used to waltz through each year and so on. However, the concept of giving large lump sums for scientific research, whether it's for a ship or a piece of equipment, just hadn't penetrated. And it wasn't at all easy to get anything like that passed in the political process.

Sullivan

So in a way, it was a bit of a fatal flaw in the organization of Australian science.

Bowen

Yes. It was one that has since been realized, and now things are looked after a good deal better, but at that time, certainly, it was a distinction which I noticed as compared with the United States or Britain.

Sullivan

And this of course, was what forced you to go outside the country for your capital funding?

Bowen

Right.

Sullivan

Although you still got matching funds in Australia, I think.

Bowen

But as a second thought, if you like. If you recall jumping to the big dish, the Parkes telescope, we got a $.25 million from Carnegie first of all, as a starter; we got another $.25 million from the Rockefeller Foundation. But the Rockefeller Foundation put a condition on it- they would only give the quarter of a million if not only that sum was matched by the Australian government, but other funds as well, including the Carnegie funds.

Sullivan

I see.

Bowen

And luckily, we were very well the time. Bob Menzies was Prime Minister, Curnies Ross was Chairman of CSIRO, and Casey was Minister, Lord Casey was Minister of the CSIRO and between them, they agreed in a week. That was, again, sometime around 1954, so that, if you like, can be thought of as the breakthrough.

Sullivan

Yes. It really did change the nature there. Okay, well now to get off on this, the idea of decision making. So it sounds like the decisions were pretty straight forward. Maybe that's not the best word, but they were somewhat easier up to this point, but when the crunch came, and there were conflicting things desiring money, then some hard decisions had to be made. In particular, of course, the large radio telescope in the mid ‘50s, there were differences of opinion. How do you summarize what those opinions were and how that situation developed?

Bowen

I would, I think I'd put it in two ways- one is that well, there was, a lot of pressure from people who favored the big single instrument, there was pressure from the people who favored the special purpose types of things.

Sullivan

Which would be like the Mills Cross?

Bowen

The Mills Cross and the [Wilber Norman "Chris"] Christiansen projects and so on. And well, in the end, I suppose, the decision was on my doorstep, but I had to make it, and I made it in the direction of the Parkes, the big steerable dish on two grounds, One was that it had to be an all-embracing concept before we would ever get the support in Australia or the support from overseas, which we got from Carnegie and Rockefeller.

Sullivan

By all embracing, you mean flexible enough for many different kinds of research?

Bowen

Yes, well that really is my second point that when it came down to a hard choice it simply had to go in the direction of an instrument which would be used for a wide variety of research, which was not always true of the rival things. The Mills Cross was a one-off.

Sullivan

So what was your first point then? I'm not sure how see its different.

Bowen

No, I'm not sure myself now.

Sullivan

Could you just say again what your first point was?

Bowen

Well the first point was that it had to be an attractive all-embracing project before it would appeal to the fund providers should I say?

Sullivan

And the big dish just has more pizazz, as I said, than a Mills Cross?

Bowen

Right.

Sullivan

So this is a very non-scientific criterion, but a very practical one.

Bowen

At that stage, we simply had to think in those terms. Australia was growing up to some extent in the sense that I mean, that what we were going to get for our money and what does all this mean. It had to be laid out in very, very simple and earthy terms.

Sullivan

Right. Now I'm a little confused as to where Joe Pawsey stood on this it seems like he changed at some point. Could you describe that as you see it?

Bowen

This was, it leads us into difficulties, I think we make no bones about this, but... let's say that Joe was about the best number two man I've ever had in all my life. And of course everybody knows the contributions that he's made in radio astronomy. At the same time he was a man who had great difficulty in making up his mind, especially about a big project such as this.

Sullivan

I've heard others say this.

Bowen

I'm glad because I’d hate to be the only one to say it but it was a clear characteristic that he would vacillate, that he would change his mind, flip from one to the other. And in many respects, without disrespect to Joe, I was in the position of having to make up his mind for him on a lot of these things. He also had the characteristic, and please don't misunderstand this, that having made a decision, having made up his mind, he would flip the next week or the week after- just the fact of having made up his mind used to frighten the daylights out of him. So he tended to flip. So I think that problem runs all through the, you know, the Mills Cross and even to some extent, the spectrograph and the heliograph.

Sullivan

Can you more or less say how you recall that it was that during such and such a period that he was favoring one thing and then he changed his mind to something else? Can you recall how that went?

Bowen

Not really, except that it was a flipping process. And certainly from my point of view, because at that time, I was talking to a lot of overseas people, Van [Vannevar] Bush at Carnegie and Rockefeller people there was no way at all which I could appear to be changing my mind. I had to be very, very firm and definite.

Sullivan

Yes, I see what you mean.

Bowen

And I think it was a little against the grain of how Joe used to want to operate. In fact, many projects prior to this stage, he used to start in rather a tenuous way and let's feel our way through it and just have a hat in the field and a few receivers and see where we go from there. It was the essence of stringency and let’s try it as we go and not making up your mind.

Sullivan

He came out of the Cavendish Lab and this is very much in their tradition.

Bowen

Yes, the Australian [?].

Sullivan

Once again, people use that term when describing Joe.

Bowen

And you get to a point where you can't, you get beyond a certain size and financial commitments, you can't do that.

Sullivan

So is it fair to summarize it in some respects in that he was much more oriented towards science than really knowing how best to carry out fundraising and the administration aspects and so forth?

Bowen

Oh sure. And the building of a big project like a radio telescope. He'd never been involved and he didn't sort of flow along with it.

Sullivan

It just wasn't his style.

Bowen

No, it just wasn't his style.

Sullivan

But I think it is true, is it not, that once the decision for the big dish was made, then he became enthusiastic about it.

Bowen

Oh yes.

Sullivan

In the last few years before he died. But once again, that was a switch, I guess. Okay. Well, while we're talking about the big dish, you mentioned only about your design work to do with the large dish. And of course, I talked in quite a bit of detail with Harry Minnett about this.

Bowen

Minnett, you'd have got a good...

Sullivan

What he did in London and working with the dish. But I'd be interested from your point of view as to what you worked on specifically on the specs for this dish and so forth. In other words, we didn't really go into any details about the whole six year process between fund raising. Could you describe how that went?

Bowen

Off the cuff, I'd be hard put to give dates to this, so you'll perhaps have to fit them in. But initially, we were concerned with some very basic things like maximum size in which we had the only lead, the only lead we had was other than, there was an enormous spectrum the big radar dishes which we knew and the Jodrell Bank 250 foot, which was not in existence then, but...

Sullivan

It was having its troubles also.

Bowen

Was having its troubles. So we knew we were somewhat in the range between the 60 to 100 foot and 250 with a very strong indication that 250 might be too big. There may be too many problems in it. So we give a lot of attention to the size question without focusing too closely on any particular - we knew we were well over 100 feet. But whether we were over 200 feet, wasn't at all clear. So any constructive thinking we did was along those lines. The other outstanding question of course, strange though it may seem, was alt-azimuth versus...

Sullivan

Equatorial.

Bowen

Equatorial. And in fact, when we engaged Freeman-Fox to do a design study, that was the first requirement, to decide between azimuth and equatorial - which is what they did. Of course quite quickly as I recall, we had that answer, possibly after six months or within a year. Quite clearly on the side of alt-azimuth. Does that answer you?

Sullivan

Well, that's the beginning of an answer. What were the key things that went into the decision for alt-azimuth?

Bowen

It was effectively cost-benefit. Now I’m talking about the early study by Freeman-Fox. They in effect calculated what size dish you could get for a given amount of money, alt-azimuth and the same amount of money, equatorial. And there was no question about it, it came out well in favor of alt-azimuth. With a drive problem, of course, as the essentially the unsolved, not entirely unsolved, but it left the difficulty of the control problem to be handled.

Sullivan

But the decision was made to go alt-azimuth even before the drive problem was fully solved?

Bowen

We had a partial solution. Let's say that decision was taken within the first year of having Freeman-Fox do this. The solution which we always had in mind, and in fact, had in mind from the beginning, and I may have mentioned this to you before, was of course, the analog computer. We would have a small equatorial drive, which would simulate the motion which you wanted and we would take...

Sullivan

Similar to what was on the NRL [National Research Laboratory] 50 foot?

Bowen

That's right. In fact, that was exactly what we had in mind. [?] components off that, and feed them into the big dish. And within the kind of limits that NRL knew about, which we were aiming for at that time, it was entirely feasible. And that was the proposal right up to the time that Barnes-Wallis came into the picture. Have I described this to you?

Sullivan

No, you didn't.

Bowen

No well, as part of the contract with Freeman-Fox, perhaps I should say before we had dealings with Freeman-Fox, we had talked to [Sir] Barnes [Neville] Wallis, you know who he is - he was the dam buster, the man who designed the Wellington bomber and his first design project was the only British dirigible that didn't crash, the R-100. In other words he was a superb structural man. And we'd been talking to him about the structural big dishes. And he, this is interesting in itself, he was a strong advocate of our building a radio telescope 1,000 feet in diameter. He didn't mind where the money came from, he just wanted to build it.

Sullivan

Fully steerable with 1,000 feet?

Bowen

Yes. So and of course he did have some, based on his [?] experience, particularly, he did have some very advanced ideas, which are still to be seen in the Parkes dish, of course, the [?] overlapping spiral structure is still Barnes Wallis.

Sullivan

I see.

Bowen

Which is the way he built his airplanes and tended to build his dirigibles, rigid airships, I should say, not dirigibles. Okay. As part of the contract arrangement with Freeman- Fox, we had Barnes Wallis as an advisor on structures. And it was about six months or a year after the Freeman-Fox thing had been going that I was having lunch in the Athenium in London with Barnes Wallis - the Athenium is the equivalent of the [?] in Washington. And right in the middle of lunch, he said, "Oh, by the way, how are you going to drive this thing?" Literally, that's what he said. And I told him, right there - on the back of the menu or something, you know, analog take off sin and cosine and feed it into the big dish. And it took him about thirty seconds and he said, "Look that's wrong." Or perhaps what he said was that that wasn't the best way to do it. He said, "What you should do is put the equatorial at the axis of interception of your alt-azimuth telescope and put an error signal on it." Right there as far as I knew, he hadn't thought about it until that time. And out came the answer, and needless to say, it was perfectly obvious that he was onto a winner. By the end of lunch, we decided that that was the way to do it and that he would go off to the patent office and get a patent on it, which is what he did.

Sullivan

And this was in 1956 or 1957 now?

Bowen

Could have been earlier. My dates are, I'm rusty on dates. 1955 perhaps.

Sullivan

Oh early in the...

Bowen

I'd say 1955 or 1956. It's capable of being checked. We can get the date of the Barnes Wallis patent. That would have been about it.

Sullivan

All right. So once that decision had been made, that was obviously the key one, what finally determined the size of the dish?

Bowen

Let's go back a little. At that point, I think, Harry Minnett was already in London and all this was transferred to him, if he wasn't already there it was very quickly afterwards. And of course, the main thrust of the control problem went that way.

Sullivan

He told me quite a bit of detail about that.

Bowen

He told you then and there were plenty of reports about it. What was your next...

Sullivan

I was wondering what determined this final size? 210 feet, where did that come from?

Bowen

Oh, yes. Well this again was a very specific step in that shortly after the decision, of course part and parcel of the decision for alt-azimuth over equatorial. The design study at that time had made a pot shot at 230 feet. Everybody being agreed that we shouldn't try to beat or look like beating the Manchester dish. If we were going to beat it we were going to have to beat it by a substantial margin.

Sullivan

You were going to go for a 251 foot dish?

Bowen

We were obviously not going to go 251, it would have to be 300. And by this time, we had firmly decided not to try to beat it, so 230 was a shot. And the financial estimate for 230 foot just came out some limit which we had set for ourselves, I can't even recall what the limit was but it was just, it looked like too much money. And we decided to cut down, of course, you only have to cut a few feet off to get a substantial saving in cost. So much to, not the disgust of Freeman-Fox, but they were very reluctant to bring it down from 230 foot, having put a fairly bit of his own work in, but they eventually, we had to force the issue and eventually came around and went down to 210 foot as a fairly, well uninspired guess, it was more than that, fairly factual, there was sufficient facts available to suggest that the cost at 210 foot would be within our capacity. Oh, plus some remaining doubts about deflections...

Sullivan

That's what I was just going to get into. This is all related to minimum operating wavelength. And what criteria did you have for that?

Bowen

21 cm, very definitely. We certainly wanted to operate at 21 cm, which of course, Manchester dish, it was perfectly clear they'd gotten nowhere near it, so that we at that time, reckoned that we would be so far in front by cutting down to 210 feet that we could accommodate 21 cm and this was a major factor as far as we were concerned.

Sullivan

But pushing to 10 or 5 was not of that much interest?

Bowen

Not at that time, we didn't dream we could do it.

Sullivan

Although of course, it's remarkable what's happened to that dish since. And Harry Minnett commented that the basic reason it's been able to be done is because it was built so well, to such high tolerance. Were you thinking of that at that time? That maybe a decade in the future? Or was that just good luck?

Bowen

Frankly, no. I would say it was more than good luck, but we were pushing for the limit naturally, but there was nothing at the time that would suggest we could get below 10 cm, operating wavelength at 10 cm. And much as we would have liked to think that we were doing better than that, to my mind there was no hope. And in this regard I can well remember my own experience was involved in the early airborne radar dishes, which were 30 inches, and we had difficulty making the first ones. In fact, they were 10 cm. They were moving fast, of course, but that was a problem - going from 10 centimeters to three on a 30 inch dish was a problem and the thought of making a 210 foot dish go down there was just beyond all reason. And all the engineering concepts that or the advice we could get from the engineering profession suggested it wasn't on.

Sullivan

Along this line, I'd be interested in your comments about the possible influence of NRL's work. I was just there yesterday. They of course, were using the 50 foot dish and pretty much, no competition at 3 centimeter work on the planets and so forth. Did this, was there any push from that direction? Did you look at these shorter wavelengths and say, "Boy, maybe we should go for a smaller dish and go to shorter wavelengths?"

Bowen

No, I'd say it was just peripheral. My own experience in the Radiophysics Lab was of course, predominantly at longer wavelengths. So we knew we had a whole field open to us there, much as we would have liked at that time to think in terms of the shorter wavelengths, it didn't seem to have as much return as the longer. Naturally, I had a very good look at the NRL dish prior to that or at that time, and that was an amazing construction for the time of course but their own horror stories about putting it together and machining it and re-machining it were enough to put anybody off. They certainly...

Sullivan

And it was only 50 feet. And you had wanted to go for something larger if you were going to go for a 3 centimeter dish.

Bowen

That's right. And of course, thereby hangs a slightly different tale, of course. We made the center 54 feet of the Parkes dish solid for the reason that we might possibly do something at shorter wavelengths, but it wasn't until the Parkes dish had been in operation for years that it was realized how good a structure that it was, that we ever contemplated using that inner portion. It was there as a very long shot.

Sullivan

I was just thinking now. There was some short wavelength stuff done by [John "Jack" Hobart] Piddington and Minnett in particular over a period of a few years.

Bowen

Small dishes, yes, and very productive.

Sullivan

But there wasn't much pressure still though, to go for a say 100 foot 1 centimeter dish.

Bowen

Not till later. No we'd been right through the Parkes cycle if you like, before that pressure emerged. And of course, we made a proposal to the government for a 100 foot microwave...

Sullivan

Millimeter dish.

Bowen

Yes, which was never funded.

Sullivan

So it seems to me would you say it' g a fair summary that the whole Parkes dish went quite smoothly compared to many other horror stories, in particular, Jodrell Bank and the 140 foot and the Bonn dish, Sugar Grove, of course, is a real disaster. To what do you attribute...

Bowen

I put it down to a number of things. I would say careful planning, without specifying where that planning was. But it was careful planning right through the whole project. And as far as the credit goes of course a tremendous amount of it belongs to Freeman-Fox who did a far better structure than anybody ever realized. They had done at the time, we didn't know at the time. I don’t think they knew themselves.

Sullivan

How did you come upon them as the consultants?

Bowen

It was a variety of recommendations. In fact, when the project started, we may even have had the money from Carnegie, we weren't at all clear in our own minds how we would go about building it. In fact, we might conceivably have engineered it for ourselves. We were talking to an aeronautical research lab for example who had some good structural people. We talked with them a lot; we talked with Roderick at Sydney University, he's an engineering professor. And from those talks, gradually the concept evolved of hiring an outside firm of consultants, which is the British system, of course. We tried to do it within the government for a start, but it just wasn't possible.

Sullivan

The expertise?

Bowen

The expertise; we'd have to call somebody in. There was no question about that. We looked at Husband of course; the Jodrell Bank engineer, very closely, and very quickly determined that that wasn't the way to go. There were other consultants in Britain that we...

Sullivan

What was the reason that you quickly determined that?

Bowen

Well, three reasons I would say. First of all, Husband himself was pushing too hard. He was always trying to push us into a corner. And without, he was the most unforthcoming engineer I've ever spoken to. To talk to him about deflection of the dish, well as far as he was concerned there were no deflections. It was entirely a cover-up - he talked to us like he talked to [?]. It was impossible to get any factual information out of him in other words. That was one reason, the other reason was that Jodrell Bank was half-way through construction; we were having a look at it, of course and trifle problems immediately, you know, just the two tower type of structure, definitely not the way to go. You only had to look at it to realize the distortions that were going to take place on that account alone. And I think what finally cured me was that that of course, is a real old fashioned riveted structure - literally, riveted. And I was watching them build it one day, there were rivets being heated red hot in a charcoal stove on the basement and carted up to the loft in a basket.

Sullivan

Were they nineteenth century...

Bowen

Nineteenth century engineers. That coupled with lack of information with Husband was enough to put me off completely. So that wasn't the way to go. Anyhow we talked with a lot of people and in the end it focused on Freeman-Fox and partners who the decision was finally made on the basis of something like a week's interview with some of the senior partners and although their experience wasn't directly in line. I mean they were bridge builders and railway engineers and so on the expertise that they could bring to the problem within days really stood out like a shining light - there was just no question. In everything but the control problem. And of course, they didn't pretend to have expertise in that field. I'm not sure I've completely answered the question, but...

Sullivan

I think so.

[Break]

Sullivan

So we were just discussing the point about you apparently visited England in 1946 and 1948, and it seems most likely that in 1946 you either gave a talk or discussed the million degree corona and in 1948, likewise for the identifications of John Bolton.

Bowen

That makes more sense.

Sullivan

But now you mentioned before we began taping today that you often had the feeling that you were giving information to Ryle's group in particular, that was then bounding back to you, that they were scooping you.

Bowen

That's true. And I can add another example to it, which you can check from the literature. But you might recall and this is 1946 stuff again, that D. F. [David] Martyn got the polarization off, burst from the Sun. And in 1946 I was talking to [Edward] Appleton among others, who then, of course, was Jacksonian Professor at Cambridge.

Sullivan

I think that's right. And you were in England talking with him?

Bowen

That's right. And he was my old professor, of course. And when I told him about that, he nearly jumped out of his, the letter was in Nature. I mean was in the Archives and was going into Nature, I told him about that, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Because he and I think it was Beynom.

Sullivan

What name?

Bowen

Beynom. B-E-Y-N-O-M. Or was it [James] Hey?

Sullivan

There's a little thing by Appleton and Hey on polarization.

Bowen

Hey, I'm sorry. Hey it was. Beynom was somebody else. And it transpired that he got so excited that he called up the editor, waited till I was out of the room, and called up the editor on the spot and said "Look, there's [?] stop that Australian thing." And I forget how it eventually appeared, but the editor didn't fall for it completely.

Sullivan

Yes, there were three papers on this, and Ryle had a paper also on circular polarization and they all appeared within two weeks of each other - I forget the order myself.

Bowen

That's right but there was no question if you look at the dates on the things themselves, that the Australian one was first. And it was just the telling to Appleton that, they snapped onto it like a house on fire.

Sullivan

You may remember that Hey had some very diplomatic words in his book about Appleton's taking credit for things.

Bowen

That probably was the first eye-opener I got, and when this was quickly followed by three I can think of, well, the million degree thing, and if you check back on the actual, well Pawsey definitive paper on that, of all places came out in the Journal of the IEE [Institute of Electrical Engineers].

Sullivan

Right but very delayed.

Bowen

And it was held up for two years by [John] Ratcliffe, who was Ryle's boss at that time, while Ryle produced his paper in the [Sullivan: Proceedings of the] Royal Society. And the first time that I mentioned the million degrees in public at my talk in Cambridge, Ryle got up and denied it and said, "There's no such thing." No question about it. But if you look at the published work, Ryle was preceded by that of Pawsey, and there's no doubt that that was held up by Ratcliffe. It was also if I might say, a badly written paper by Pawsey, extremely badly written, which...

Sullivan

So there was some justification in the holding up?

Bowen

Yes. I remembered berating Pawsey on that account. I told him that it was lousy before he sent it but he insisted on sending it. And then it got held up. So that was the million degree thing vis-à-vis Ryle there was the polarization thing which I just mentioned. Also at one of the talks, ‘46 or ‘48, another statement that I was able to make came from Mills' work on the distribution of sources showing, now I'm getting unclear as to my facts at this stage...

Sullivan

This must be later.

Bowen

This is 1948, I think. Anyhow, the distribution of sources.

Sullivan

That must have been ‘50 or ‘51, something like that.

Bowen

Yes, my dates, I said are [?]. Mills showed that the, let me get it right, that the faint sources were more or less uniformly distributed and the strong ones are in the plane.

Sullivan

Right, and the extended ones were in a plane also.

Bowen

That's right. And Ryle denied that outright.

Sullivan

Well that was indeed a conflict. The 1C survey that Ryle, [Francis Graham] Smith, and [Bruce] Elsmore had pretty isotropic distribution, and of course it came about because their interferometric technique was not picking up wide angle sources.

Bowen

So they got that one wrong and as I say, my first mention of identification of point sources was more or less denied by Ryle. And all, I think every one of those appeared in his Hughes Medal Citation.

Sullivan

In the Hughes Medal?

Bowen

Or the Royal Medal, whichever it was. In the middle ‘50s.

Sullivan

Is that the one that won Gibbs - no the Halley lecture is something separate from that. Talking about the growth of radio astronomy from radar in Great Britain and Australia a natural question comes to mind as to why it did not happen in the Radiation Laboratory in the U.S. and you covered this a little bit before. You said that nuclear physics was where a lot of these people came out of, but that doesn't seem satisfactory enough an answer to me.

Bowen

Perhaps I, no, at the end of the war, as I see it, in the United States, tremendous efforts went into nuclear physics on the one hand, and things like the Dew line on the other.

Sullivan

Military work.

Bowen

Right. And these between them absorbed the effort and the money and what have you.

Sullivan

So what you're saying is that the radio effort that went on was military. There wasn't much scientific research or civilian research.

Bowen

That's right. That's my feeling about.

Sullivan

So it’s more of a funding decision that's made at the political level that dictated that?

Bowen

That's right.

Sullivan

Do you agree at all- a couple of people in Australia say that speculated anyway, that what might have happened is that there were no university posts to go to in Australia by the Radiophysics Lab people and therefore, whereas in the U.S. you know [Robert H.] Dicke would go back to Princeton and other people would go back to various universities where they could get funding. Whereas in Australia, a university position was not that desirable and there weren't that many of them anyway.

Bowen

That's very true. Just the fact that the Radiophysics Lab continued to exist as an entity was a very important factor, I think. The in fact, the only, the big personnel change that took place was strictly at the end of basic engineering level. Although a lot of people went back to industry from Radiophysics Laboratory, but nobody as far as I can recall, virtually nobody, went back to the universities.

Sullivan

I don't know of any cases of it.

Bowen

Well a few people, Webster is one, is a professor, Hugh Webster, but he, and [John] Jaeger, but they were [?].

Sullivan

They were what?

Bowen

Secondments [?] from the universities, they had a chair somewhere and either worked part time at the Radiophysics Lab or full time, but they had a place to go back to. They were required to go back.

Sullivan

Now once again, we discussed this before we began taping, namely, Woolley’s attitude toward radio astronomy. I was saying that in the correspondence some of the early correspondence, it seemed like he was trying to get some cooperation going and even trying to build a radio dish at Mount Stromlo which of course, you people in Radiophysics, thought was a rather silly idea. It hard for me to reconcile that versus many people, not just yourself, who have said that Woolley looked down his nose at radio astronomers and you told the story about the talk he gave about the future of astronomy in which he didn't even mention radio astronomy.

Bowen

Perhaps I can put another slant on this. And I don't know if we've discussed D. F. Martyn to any great extent.

Sullivan

Well, you did some before, but go ahead.

Bowen

There was a very severe problem at that time, and I don't want to over magnify it and I don't want to underplay it, but the first chief of Radio Physics was D. F. Martyn who went across to Britain and [?] And...

Sullivan

During the war now?

Bowen

Right. He started the place off - he considered he was a father of it, and what have you, and as happened to a lot of such people, before the war was half way through, he was disposable. Without going into reasons, he had to be replaced, and Fred White, who was subsequently chairman of CSIRO replaced him - they fetched him over from New Zealand, and he more or less saw the lab back on its feet and in good working condition. He was actively recruiting people like myself to come and take over.

Sullivan

This is White?

Bowen

Fred White, yes. So I found myself when I was appointed Chief of Radiophysics that D. F. Martyn had meanwhile gone to operation research in the army or something, at the end of the war, without consultation with me, damned if he didn't come back in the lab and for quite some time, I mean, presumably he had some authority to do it, I don't know where from, but there came the time when he had an office next to the front door of the division of Radiophysics with his foot outside the door trapping anyone who would come in.

Sullivan

I see.

Bowen

You see what I'm saying?

Sullivan

So actually working there...

Bowen

Oh doing...

Sullivan

Not just visiting but actually working there.

Bowen

Yes, inconsequential things and this got to be so, well, it became intolerable to me as chief and I had to have a showdown with the executive of CSIRO and say, "Look, you've either got me as chief of Radiophysics, or else you've got D. F. Martyn sitting there as the boss." So he was a difficult man to place but they finally found a place to sit in Mt. Stromlo. You may not have heard this.

Sullivan

I hadn't heard how he got to Mt. Stromlo but okay, so this sheds some light on it.

Bowen

Ostensibly because he was an ionospheric man, and although some analogies between ionosphere and solar corona, and while he was there, he continued an interest in what he'd picked up at Radiophysics solar work particularly. And he was pushing for the solar dish.

Sullivan

So you think it was really him that was pushing more than Woolley?

Bowen

Oh yes, no question. So this then appeared, probably, in official correspondence, under Woolley’s signature.

Sullivan

I see.

Bowen

We were certainly pulling for strongly.

Sullivan

Right.

Bowen

It's a difficult thing to talk about.

Sullivan

It interesting you mention under his signature, because there was one point where Woolley got upset in the correspondence because staff members were writing to staff members back and forth and he said, "All things will go through the director's at both ends." I thought that was hilarious.

Bowen

That's Dick Woolley all over.

Sullivan

He wanted to know every last thing that was going on. Okay. The final question has to do with, you were chief until what year?

Bowen

1971.

Sullivan

Until 1971 - that late. Okay. As I say, I'm ending things pretty much with the beginning of the Parkes dish. Is there anything in the first couple of years of the Parkes dish that you think is particularly notable that you think I should know about? I talked with some of the people who did some of the early observations, but from your point of view?

Bowen

No would say that everything went so smoothly, you know, the whole thing went like clockwork, and it established itself so early in the...

Sullivan

That there was no problem particularly. I did want to ask you about Joe Pawsey decision to take the post as head of NRAO. I know that you two did not see eye to eye, but if you could sort of summarize for me in some way, why with this big dish coming, which he was then quite enthusiastic about, did he choose to leave?

Bowen

This is a very difficult one to talk about and I hope you'll be circumspect about it in the actual writing.

Sullivan

Certainly. Certainly.

Bowen

But the truth of the matter, now, after the event, is that Pawsey was a very sick man. We didn't know it in factual terms, you know, he had a brain tumor. It's quite clear to me that he was showing it well before his death.

Sullivan

I see. By which you mean two or three years?

Bowen

A year or two.

End of Tape 107A

Sullivan Tape 107B

Sullivan

This is continuing with Taffy Bowen on 22 June ’78.

Bowen

I can be quite factual about it because I was very close to some of the early planning for Green Bank. Lloyd Berkner, discussed it with us extensively, and he asked us to go through reports and make recommendations and so on. I knew what was involved, the size particularly, the kind of expenditure, that staff that they had in mind, even the question of who should be director had been discussed to some extent. And it came as a tremendous surprise to me that it was offered to Joe. On the grounds that I knew Joe almost better than anybody at that time, and we've already mentioned the problem he had changing making up his mind about anything. In the last year of his life with us, it was severe. It was a problem. Did you talk to Arthur Higgs when you were out there?

Sullivan

I did.

Bowen

He was my technical secretary, he may not have mentioned this, but he and I discussed it quite often. It was a real problem. Well, unless we stood in personally for Joe on any problem that came up, there was never a hope of resolution.

Sullivan

And you just didn't know what was the cause of this?

Bowen

Oh we didn't know, of course. He was quite young still, 53 or 54, I'd say. And when he accepted the Green Bank post, and this is very difficult to talk about, I think I'd better, I didn't feel that I could talk to my American friends about it, but I went to Fred White, Chairman of CSIRO, and said, "Look, no way that Joe's going to run that place. It's a hopeless case, he can't do it. Can we have a medical check or something?" And there was in fact, a medical check, to see if he was fit for overseas travel, but it didn't show anything. So the decision and Fred White asked about it, and I remember this, it was, "He's passed his medical checks nothing we can do." So let's say there were severe problems of that kind, at that time, which we were vaguely aware of, we didn't, couldn't pin them down and I just had to lump the whole problem into one piece and say it's his decision if he decides to take it. And the Americans wanted him to take it, so there was nothing I could do.

Sullivan

I see what you're saying.

Bowen

Very difficult.

Sullivan

Were there other people in the staff that noticed?

Bowen

Not as... I would say Arthur Higgs was a man who would know about it as clearly as I did. And I won't give gruesome details but his memory of things after 24 hours- gone.

Sullivan

What do you think was the motivation from his point of view? Once again, he wasn't administratively inclined.

Bowen

I don't know. He was in bad shape. In no shape to make a decision of that kind actually.

Sullivan

Right well thank you very much.

[Break in tape]

Sullivan

Just a couple of other questions. First of all, could you just tell me what your educational background was?

Bowen

Well B.Sc., first class I was in physics, University of Wales 1930. Long time ago.

Sullivan

Are you Welsh then?

Bowen

Welsh born. Born and bred in Swansea, South Wales, which is where I went to University. That was 1930. A year later, a M.Sc. in research also at University of Wales, 1931.

Sullivan

In what fields now are these?

Bowen

Oh that was x-ray crystallography, which was a bit of a specialty in mineralogy, and all that stuff.

Sullivan

But in physics though.

Bowen

Then I went to work with Appleton at Kings College in London and got a Ph.D. at London University in 1934, predominantly cosmic rays. And that's it. I got an honorable DSC from Sydney University in 1957, I think.

Sullivan

How is it that you happened to get involved in radar, then if you'd done your thesis on cosmic rays?

Bowen

Well, predominantly because I should have said cosmic rays and thunderstorms, you know, there was thought to be a connection. So at that time I did a lot of observing at the radio research station in Slough outside of London.

Sullivan

At Slough, right.

Bowen

The superintendent of which was Watson-Watt.

Sullivan

Oh I see yes okay.

Bowen

So that was the connection. And then when the radar thing started, I was looking for a job and [Robert] Watson-Watt was looking for staff so...

Sullivan

What year would this be?

Bowen

1935.

Sullivan

Okay. Another question that I meant to ask was the relationship between optical and radio astronomy. As you look back over the twenty years after World War II do you ever feel that radio astronomy every merged into optical or has it always remained somewhat of a separate discipline?

Bowen

In Australia, again the situation, I think, was unique. We refer to the problems with Woolley at Mount Stromlo but the transformation took place when Bart Bok came out as director and he of course, had a radio astronomy connection back at Harvard with the 60 foot dish, and when he came out the situation was transformed, a completely collaborative effort. He was the responsibility for optical astronomy and we were responsible to do radio. And everything went swimmingly from there on. He supported us in our proposals whatever they might be and later in the piece, we were strongly supporting him of course, when he was advocating a 150 inch optical telescope.

Sullivan

That would be when the early ‘60s?

Bowen

Early to mid ‘60s. This came to fruition, of course, with the Anglo-Australian Telescope [Sullivan: AAT].

Sullivan

Many years later.

Bowen

Many years later, which was commissioned in 1974 or thereabouts. So much so that I was Chairman of the Board for about six years of the preparatory period, the actual building. [Sullivan: 1967-73]

Sullivan

It's probably fair to say that that optical telescope is more like a radio telescope in many of its design aspects than...

Bowen

Well certainly in the control, which, of course, is outstanding.

Sullivan

But what about on a worldwide scale. For instance, I asked you, you said you'd never actually been to an IAU General Assemblies, and yet you’ve been to countless URSI ones, and so you must not feel a real need to talk to astronomers per se, yourself anyway.

Bowen

Well, just going back a little again I think when I was Chairman of the AAT Board, I realized for the first time, that there was a profound difference between the way that optical astronomers work and radio astronomers work. It's probably true that nobody's had a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society for building a telescope - builders of telescopes are outside the pale, as it were. In radio astronomy of course it's the engineers and the builders who made radio astronomy right from the jump. So...

Sullivan

So even in the ‘70s, you saw this attitude?

Bowen

Very much so.

Sullivan

Not just- Woolley was also on this Committee, not just Woolley?

Bowen

Oh no. It was through and through - I'm talking about every country except maybe the United States where people like Bruce Rule and Ike Bowen, of course, have got standing in the field, but anywhere else in the world. And telescope builders are somebody you call in like a garbage man.

Sullivan

Or the plumber. So it sounds like you're saying that the two disciplines even until recent times are quite distinct in their philosophy and you don't see a whole lot of amalgamation.

Bowen

Oh, no I didn't mean to give that impression at all. This was certainly true in the ‘40s when radio astronomy started and in the early ‘50s. As I see it, the amalgamation has taken place it has already occurred.

Sullivan

Oh, I see, and when do you think that took place?

Bowen

I would say the middle ‘60s. Certainly by the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. I would say the collaboration couldn't be more complete.

Sullivan

But still rather distinct styles though.

Bowen

Oh, yes. There are still different styles, of course, as we see it, the optical astronomers are rapidly catching up. I mean instrumental attachments to telescopes and electronics and so on. But that lesson has been learned.

Sullivan

Right. Okay, thank you. That ends the interview with Taffy Bowen on 22 June ’78 at his home at Westover, Maryland on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay.


Modified on Tuesday, 16-Dec-2014 15:52:54 EST by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)