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NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with John W. Findlay
At the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
August 14, 1981 and August 18, 1981
Interview Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Transcribed by Sierra Smith

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.

Part 1 | Part 3

Sullivan

Continuing with John Findlay on 14 August 1971. So Berkner had just gotten the contract to study the feasibility of a national radio observatory.

Findlay

So since you like funny stories, let me put in before then because I had known him and he had been in England something like a year before and he was interested in radio telescopes for this reason. He and Doc [Harold "Doc" Irving] Ewen, would you believe it, to visit Lovellís telescope which was then being built. Because I knew Bernard so I was their host and I drove them up to Jodrell Bank, stayed in a hotel in [Over the Edge?] the night before and that night we were to go to Lovellís house to meet Lovell. So Iíll waste a tape on this one. Do you know Doc Ewen?

Sullivan

Well, I have interviewed him.

Findlay

He has occasionally been known to drink beer and I remember taking him into the bar called at [Over the Edge?] and I donít think heíd been in England before because he said, "Iíll have a beer," and they said, "What kind of beer?." He said, "How many do you have?" They said something like 23, you see, and Doc said, "I think Iíll try one of each." Now, he didnít but that explains what happened because after dinner we set out for Lovell and Iíd been giving instructions on what to do. And we got lost so Findlay stops the car naturally at a pub and goes inside and I say to the man there, you know I canít do the dialect, I told him where we are trying to get to. He said, "Well, what have you done?" I said, "We left [Over the Edge?] and I turned right and I turned left and I went four and I turned right." And he said, "Oh you shouldnít have done that. If youíd done that you would have come here." It really did fix me and of course, I accepted Lloydís offer which meant that I got here before anything had been done except site selection.

Sullivan

Where did you go to work?

Findlay

NRAO, New York 72nd floor Empire State Building.

Sullivan

And what was your task?

Findlay

Build the observatory. There were three of us. If I must say so, the sloppy way people put things together. The letter that Lloyd said, "I have Dick Emberson, I shall have you, and Iíve just got Dave [David S.] Heeschen who has recently graduated from Harvard. You three will work together to build the observatory." And Lloyd appointed himself director, thatís right he appointed himself acting director of the non-existing observatory and set up into work. In effect, Emberson being his right hand man was leading the project at that time.

Sullivan

And so what was your approach to setting up an observatory?

Findlay

Well, listen to Lloyd to start with. There was a good feasibility study. It was laid out there. The site was chosen.

Sullivan

That had been done?

Findlay

That had been done. Thatís right. Thatís a good point.

Sullivan

You arrived when?

Findlay

End of í56.

Sullivan

Oh, that late, I see. End of í56.

Findlay

I would check that.

Sullivan

I was thinking that was later when the site had been chosen and all.

Findlay

No, the site had been chosen in the feasibility study of which you should have a copy but they are very hard to get.

Sullivan

Well, I do have an awful lot of this kind of material because, in fact, Merle Tuveís archives are at the Library of Congress and Iíve gone through them and gotten a lot of material, all board minutes of these AUI meetings.

Findlay

Well, the feasibility is a blue book and it was done by a study committee obviously appointed by AUI but with a number of distinguished people on it and they studied not all of the United States, [???], chose about eight sites, made noise measurements at them. They did a good job and concluded that Green Bank was the site.

Sullivan

But it had to be within 500 miles of Washington?

Findlay

Yes, there were some [anti-Eastern resistance?]. Well, all this is written up in Embersonís Science article, the description...

Sullivan

Well, in an official history sort of fashion, yeah. But in any case, if I canít find that Iíll check with you.

Findlay

Yeah, come back to me. And also the telescope had been chosen.

Sullivan

The 85 foot?

Findlay

No, the 140 foot design. They had been through the design phases with the steering committee and I remember the first meeting I attended at the Empire State Building. There was Ned Ashtonís 140 foot design not final but they had been through designs from Kennedy and who were the other guys?

Sullivan

This guy Feld?

Findlay

Yes, I would say Jacob Feld, lost his name. D.S. Kennedy.

Sullivan

[Grote] Reber had a...

Findlay

Reber had a shot. I not sure they took any notice of it. Reber had a shot at it but they let contacts to these other people and they were well into 140 design.

Sullivan

Was the AUI office in the Empire State Building?

Findlay

Yes, the 72nd Floor.

Sullivan

I see.

Findlay

And then a few years later it moved to Columbus Circle and then to Washington. But my working life started in New York except, I think, it was within three months we had acquisition of some land and Dave Heeschen and I looked each other in the eye and said, "Letís move to Green Bank," and I found one of the little houses there and we moved. Wouldnít you?

Sullivan

Out of Manhattan, yes.

Findlay

Get your feet on the ground in Green Bank. So we started, Dave and I.

Sullivan

So you were there in í57?

Findlay

Iíve got to check the dates. I didnít think that I would be doing this. I think í57 is right. I could get to it. That doesnít sound right.

Sullivan

Well, you said you came to Manhattan in late í56.

Findlay

Yes but that date may be wrong. When was Sputnik?

Sullivan

Sputnik was October of í57.

Findlay

Oh, thatís right because I had observed Sputnik.

Sullivan

From Green Bank?

Findlay

I was trying to do a little Cas A interferometer because we had to have something working at Green Bank to make the Quiet Zone work. That only came into existence in the West Virginia Zoning Act when observations started so we plotted out a simple interferometer at the back of this little house and I remember setting it around and then when Sputnik came I realized I needed to turn the knob of the receiver and I had a good enough thing to listen to the beeps so thatís why. I was placing it as í59 so thatís right.

Sullivan

Did you ever publish any of this Sputnik stuff?

Findlay

No, there is nothing. Itís in my notebooks.

Sullivan

There is a very interesting Sputnik story from the Cambridge Observatory where they really jumped on it for a week or two.

Findlay

Yes but they were instrumented to do it and they very quickly made orbit predictions. I mean orbit [?].

Sullivan

Yeah, Iíve gotten that story from many people but back to going to Green Bank. So it was you and Dave Heeschen who first moved out there. You set up this simple interferometer so that you could then complain about anybody who was in the Quiet Zone.

Findlay

Well, that was a very minor thing. In fact, in my notebooks I still have the sketch I made of the little house. There was an empty house there so I told the Corp of Engineers, "Acquire that piece of land first." They were buying the land, you see, and so I got them to buy that land first and in this house we set up our offices, hired a driver or two or three, an accountants who is still with us [???], turned the little building in the back into an electronics lab where I started building the electronics division so to speak and Dave was, between us-we were trying to get a telescope going and thatís how the 85 foot came into existence. That was Dave and I as soon as we met, before we went to Green Bank, we looked at each other and said, "We want a telescope and weíre not going to have one where we are going."

Sullivan

The 140 foot is going to be a long...

Findlay

We could see it [???].

Sullivan

Are you saying from the beginning you had doubts about the design?

Findlay

Yes, I mustnít go into this too far because this is something I would like to write about. Yes, right from the beginning. You see, after all I had been doing antennas all through the war for radar. They were fairly simple and in my three later years, I had been working at the Ministry of Supply and I had been in high grade radar antennas. I knew a lot about...

Sullivan

Dishes.

Findlay

Yes, usually the shaped reflector kind you would for radar and I had been watching Lovell with his problems and just prior to coming here of course, I did the sensible thing. I went to Dwingeloo and went through in detail with good old Ben [G.] Hooghoudt, the first time I met him, and collected all his ways of doing things. And I went up to Stockert and did the same thing. And those were all the telescopes there were at that time.

Sullivan

That was the only 25 meter class in your...

Findlay

Dwingeloo was the biggest antenna in the world for some time.

Sullivan

Well, then you must have gone and visited the 50 foot at NRL?

Findlay

Yes, and I visited that too. And of course, that was the same designer, Ned Ashton, who was supposed to be 140 foot.

Sullivan

Oh, did he design?

Findlay

Ned Ashton, thatís why he was chosen. Ned Ashton did the 50 foot.

Sullivan

I see.

Findlay

And thatís with some manufacturing company but thatís why he was chosen for the 140 foot. He had experience.

Sullivan

But the 50 foot was alt-az.

Findlay

I know but...

Sullivan

Didnít he like the idea of theÖ.

Findlay

Never mind. I mean all that story I wonít get into because Max Small wrote a fairly good thing when he came and picked it up off the ground. Nobody has written this early stage of the 140 foot.

Sullivan

Small wrote the Sky and Tel. [Sky & Telescope] article?

Findlay

Yes. I believe Max has written a true story, I think.

Sullivan

You are referring to the Sky & Telescope article?

Findlay

Yes, I think he has written a more truthful one. That one is a success story but Max only came in when it was on the ground. It had been on the ground as you know for about three years and I saw it put on the ground and I helped put in on the ground, you can say if you like, but my part of the telescope was the driving and control system and Iím not being proud when I say that was alright. It was the first one we put in and it worked. The engineering problems [???]. Again myself, Emberson, and Heeschen, we all regarded these things as our problems so I was worrying about everything to do with that telescope and not getting my points over obviously. Well, you couldnít, the design was settled.[???] Well, right from the beginning, Heeschen and I looked at each other and I said, "Look, this isnít going to go. We want a quick telescope. Kennedy and Blaw Knox are building are building them and canít we just buy one?"

Sullivan

Right, Harvard had one. Michigan was getting one.

Findlay

Thatís right. I mean, thatís it.

Sullivan

NRL was getting one.

Findlay

Thatís right and Dave knew about the Harvard Kennedy thing and both Kennedy and Blaw Knox but I met Fred Haddock. You had to meet Fred Haddock as soon as you came into America at that time and he was contracting for Michigan. And so Dave and I said to each other, "We can buy one." And Lloyd Berkner, again a great man, in one month said yes. We met up in Jerry [?] place, Jerry was on the advising committee and I was thinking, "What will they say?" and Lloyd came out and said, "Go and buy it." And thank goodness, he did. We had a telescope. I donít know whether I want to do all this today.

Sullivan

No, well I donít want to go into tremendous detail on this.

Findlay

Then later when the 140 foot was obviously really in trouble then we were just essentially protecting ourselves against the year or two, we thought, before the 140 foot would be there and why not have a telescope.

Sullivan

It turned out to be far more essential.

Findlay

Iíve forgotten how many years. So thatís where I see the 300 foot.

Sullivan

Right, well I want to come to that but, first of all, let me ask about Emberson. Where does he fit into this?

Findlay

Emberson was Lloydís right hand man, senior sort of administrative assistant, had been in, which was in during WWII, Radiation Lab, Iím pretty sure but never highly technically nor highly scientific but a good man and a particularly good man for Lloyd Berkner.

Sullivan

A good science administrator?

Findlay

He picked up all the things that Lloyd dropped [but a bad man for this job, you see, not the right man?].

Sullivan

For which job?

Findlay

For the job of... well, he was. Lloyd appointed himself acting director of observatory and Emberson acting deputy director. So Emberson in principle was our top man when we come to Emberson, Heeschen, and Findlay which was all we had.

Sullivan

Was Emberson at Green Bank?

Findlay

No.

Sullivan

No, you are just saying that Berkner had many things going so Emberson in practiceÖ?

Findlay

Berkner used to visit us once a month and we would fight like mad.

Sullivan

But Emberson was more often than once a month, you are saying?

Findlay

Well, yes he was but in our New York office and yes, thatís right, we hired an engineer or two into the New York office once we were letting contracts [???] but still Heeschen and I were running the things as if we were a committee. We were a committee without a leader because Lloyd could have been the leader but Lloyd was at that time either president of [URSI?] or [?]. He was working on the International Geophysical Year which he had been working on for years. He had got twenty external international jobs at one point.

Sullivan

And Brookhaven was far bigger.

Findlay

Thatís right. He was president of AUI. He was supposed to be looking after Brookhaven, you know. So it was a difficult time in the beginnings of Green Bank.

Sullivan

Well, tell me about who else came after you and Dave Heeschen.

Findlay

Scientifically [Frank D.] Drake, of course, was our next scientist and quite soon after Heeschen got Drake. They had been together.

Sullivan

Well, Iíve talked Frank.

Findlay

Youíve talked to Drake so youíll have got that. Quite soon after. Then we were living on visitors. I used the international contact I got, particularly on the technical side, my old friend Olef Rydbeck. I said to Olef, "Youíve got to lend me people" Because I knew how very good they were. One trained by Rydbeck is either good or dead. He really is terrific. Hein [Hvatum] told you. Hvatum was one of his.

Sullivan

He is the one person that I still havenít interviewed. I just havenít crossed paths with him.

Findlay

You wonít. He wonít listen to any of your questions.

Sullivan

Well, he never comes to any meetings and I havenít been to Charlottesville. He is in Charlottesville right?

Findlay

No, Rydbeck is in...

Sullivan

No, no, Hvatum.

Findlay

Oh, yes, Hvatum. You should interview Hvatum.

Sullivan

I havenít been to Charlottesville for a long time. Rydbeck I did interview.

Findlay

Good, you had a good time, Iím sure.

Sullivan

In any case, thatís how Hvatum came to Green Bank?

Findlay

Yes. I got a number of good people. In fact, theyíve all left me but theyíre all over.

Sullivan

But who else?

Findlay

Let me just some names from those early days. I ought to go back and look. From Sweden, a man called [?] who went back. I was trying to get good engineers. I wasnít even worried about the scientific staff, that kind of thing. Iím trying to think what we had on the scientific staff other than Drake. We had [?]. We had [Burt Hansen?] also from Rydbeckís school and we had Hvatum who came as a visitor then went back and then came back again. So those were the three Swedes. From France, I got a man who almost killed himself because he was diabetic. His name will come back to me. [?] went to the French group in the same way as [???]. From England, good old Ross Meadows came out for a year. He was the man who subsequently built the Joe Bolton antenna. I borrowed him because I wanted to learn about 85 foot antennas. We were just building ours so he came for a year and worked for me in electronics. What other countries? We didnít have any Australians. You couldnít get them, you see. They werenít going to come and help us. Americans...

Sullivan

I canít think of any other scientific staff.

Findlay

Until we got Sandy [Sander Weinreb]-and I tried to get him early and I failed- until we got Sandy Weinreb, we found it very hard to build an electronics division.

Sullivan

But thatís í63. Thatís much later?

Findlay

Yes, we were struggling in those early days for good electronics. I was head of it among other things and it was Bill Waltman, that right. We were sort of using home grown. Bill Waltman was a graduate student and he was working in electronics with old [Hoog?] to built our first receivers.

Sullivan

Now what about Otto Struve? When did he come?

Findlay

Otto was appointed by Lloyd Berkner. It must have been within a year or year and half of our arriving in Green Bank.

Sullivan

So that would be í58 then?

Findlay

Yes, and when did he quit?

Sullivan

í61?

Findlay

í61 or í62, yeah.

Sullivan

[Joseph L.] Pawsey became ill in í62, early í62 or late í61, I believe.

Findlay

Yes, well then it was very close after that. I remember Lloyd announcing it one day. I was driving a car somewhere and I remember him saying, "Iíve found you a good director." We said, "Fine, who is he?" He said, "Itís Otto Struve." And of course, we were glad enough because Otto was a famous man and not a radio astronomer but we wanted a director. All weíve got was Lloyd Berkner, you know.

Sullivan

You had been pressing for a director?

Findlay

Well, we...

Sullivan

As much as one can?

Findlay

Well, as much as one can with somebody like Berkner, you know. He knew it was a problem. He knew that he had failed. I remember to go back when Lloyd hired me, I was working in London after this exchange of letters. I said," Well, of course Iíll take the job but letís meet, you can tell me about it." He said, "Well, Iíll be in Paris five days from now." So I said, "Thatís fine." So I flew to Paris and we met and at that time, Lloyd described the observatory to me, all about it, and said, "Iíve got the director." I said, "Oh, thatís fine Lloyd. Who have you got?" He said, "Leo Goldberg." He had apparently but I donít know if youíve ever checked that one. Leo essentially agreed but that was just the time he was moving from Michigan to Harvard. I think he possibly had the choice. Iíve never asked Leo. I know Leo but Iíve never asked him but Lloyd me that, "Iíve got the director."

Sullivan

But itís not till three or four years later that he, in fact, got someone else?

Findlay

Two or three years.

Sullivan

But now this is always seemed a bit strange to me, being a fledging radio observatory going and then hiring certainly a very distinguished but nevertheless an optical astronomer, not particularly a technically minded optical astronomer even. What was the rationale and how did that work out?

Findlay

I can only give personal opinions again, Woody. My personal opinion is that they couldnít get one. I know one other name that was being mentioned before we got Otto was John Hagen.

Sullivan

Right, that kind of person would seem like a far more logical...

Findlay

Well, a number of us somewhat younger ones didnít think that John was the right man for it but I know what you mean.

Sullivan

Well, anyway, someone who had radio experience.

Findlay

But then you come down to the Fred Haddocks and I think both Dave and myself would have been happy with Fred but he was not an established radio astronomer. Ed [A. Edward] Lilley was the same generation as Heeschen.

Sullivan

By í58, was not Haddock an established radio astronomer?

Findlay

Yes he would have been a good choice in my opinion but, you know, Iím sure they didnít offer it to Fred. In his early days, Fred was somewhat an outspoken character. But there werenít many and Bernie Burke [Bernard Burke] was not yet that into it.

Sullivan

He wasnít that senior at that time.

Findlay

No, he wasnít as established as Fred Haddock. Well, old [Edward F.] McClain from the Naval Observatory, Ed McClain, was a possibility but not particularly...

Sullivan

He had big things going on at that time. The 600 foot.

Findlay

Yes, thatís right. Thatís the best answer I can give.

Sullivan

Now following up on that, what influence did Struve have on the development of the lab?

Findlay

Very little. The main task at that time was simply the 140 foot and it was not going. So the straight forward, day to day operations of hiring more people. One of Dave Heeschenís things there was getting a telescope operations division going. We invented that. Well, not quite. Jodrell had that but they didnít do it as well as we did.

Sullivan

The idea of operators and?

Findlay

Yes, operators and we developed it to the point where the operator owns the telescope. If you observe, you canít tell him to do something if he says no. You can do your program, you can ask him to do anything you want but you canít tell him to do something because itís his telescope. And they were very good. We invented that and, you know, that was done by Heeschen. He found people and I was trying to build up electronics in the same sort of way.

Sullivan

So Struve was only sort of the grand old man?

Findlay

He was writing his Sky & Telescope articles every week still I think, Every month. He had [B.T. Lynds?]. Roger [Roger Lynds] must be one of our earliest scientific appointments. Am I right? The man who talked on the planets?

Sullivan

[Gilman/Norman?]

Findlay

[Gilman/Norman?]

Sullivan

Not that I know of. Maybe he was a summer student or something.

Findlay

[Roger Lynds?] was one early astronomers.

Sullivan

Thatís right. They were there for a short time.

Findlay

And so [B.T?] worked for Otto and Iím forgetting Cam [Campbell M.] Wade. Cam Wade was our earliest ones and Cam Wadeís wife who died. She and [B.T Lynds?] were Ottoís two scribes. I watched him write his articles. He was very good. They both told me how he did it. He called them in and they didnít know any star system you like. He would say, "Go away and read the following references," and give me the exact references and say to one of them, "From these references, summarize for me the following things." He knew exactly what he was going to put down. He knew exactly where it was and he was going to put it all together it an Otto Struve article and they were good.

Sullivan

Oh, yes. I read many of them. In fact, he wrote, in 1948, one of the first popular articles on radio astronomy, a two part series; very interesting. But anyway, back to Green Bank.

Findlay

Well, youíve asked the question and I havenít answered it- what did Struve do? I can only say not very much except be a director which we needed.

Sullivan

He gave the place some more legitimacy to the astronomical [?].

Findlay

Oh yes, well he did to us because, you know, it was a sort of lonely feeling. We knew what we were trying to do, although I was 40 by this time, still Iím a new comer to America and Dave was a young man in experience and you feel a little lost without somebody and Struve was good. We talked to him. He understood what we were trying to do but he was not strong enough with our Board of Trustees and he was not strong enough with the Science Foundation [National Science Foundation, NSF]. In those years, the Science Foundation was good and thatís an aspect that again you really ought to cover a little if you can.

Sullivan

They were good in what sense?

Findlay

They were just plain good. There were some people in there, in my opinion, who were good; not good scientifically so much...

Sullivan

Putting the money where...

Findlay

Well, willing literally to take the risks and I canít do them now, I mean who they were but...

Sullivan

What would be the examples? I mean, Harvard, of course, had a lot of NSF money. What other examples would you be thinking of in radio astronomy?

Findlay

Well, my own case the 300 foot. You asked me about Cambridge. You realize that we had no budget problem at Green Bank. I didnít even think about a budget for two years.

Sullivan

Why was this?

Findlay

Because Lloyd Berkner presumably was making a request to NSF and they were meeting it without any details at all. I invented our famous other observing equipment. I remember sitting one day saying, I donít know what Iím going to do in electronics exactly. I know I need money so I thought I have other observing equipment. Put a line item of observing equipment. We still have it and for years, we didnít have to say what that was. I remember writing an early statement, I forgot what it was. It was to develop equipment to be used fairly soon, fairly quickly for observations in radio astronomy. It would be mainly electronic equipment but not entirely. It may be computing but thatís as far as Iím going to go and I said, "We shall keep you informed as we proposed to spend this money on various projects." and they bought it. Now we do spell it out for them but they donít approve it.

Sullivan

And that was a substantial sum in the early days?

Findlay

Yeah, I mean our total spending there except for the 140 foot can only have been about $1 million a year or something like that.

Sullivan

And how much was this other, roughly?

Findlay

Well, I remember we asked them for 300 foot money. I said, "We could build something like this." They gave us $300,000 and I built it out that plus other observing equipment so it must have been the same order because it cost another couple hundred thousand. And I could look up the people at the NSF at the sort of associate director level who just said yes, you know.

Sullivan

Well, before we get to the 300 foot, there is another question that I would like to ask and that is the early visitors to Green Bank, of which I know several and Iíve talked to them about what they did, but I would be interested in your opinion of interesting scientific results pre- 300 foot that came out of Green Bank?

Findlay

Thatís hard on my memory. Itís only the ones that, so to speak, that I specifically remember. I shall never forget Gart Westerhout for example. He didnít get any science but never mind. I remember his project- map the galactic plane at 3 cm. I believe I mentioned this to you and I remember him because it was my radiometer that he was using. The one we bought. It was actually Drake brought it from Ewen but it was a traveling wave tube radiometer and Gart said, "The radiometer is unstable;" every time he used it, it was unstable.

Sullivan

I actually have a copy of the report he wrote up. That was í58.

Findlay

I think he must have been in the Netherlands at that time.

Sullivan

Oh, yes. He did an around the world tour after he got his degree.

Findlay

Youíve got that and that was a part of that. So I remember him and old George Field- young George Field I should call him- I remember him because he tried to do the very difficult Cygnus experiment which Iíve always liked as an experiment. In fact, I thought of trying to get at the same problem some other way so I remember George Field using an 85 foot telescope and fiddling around to do that exposure that is very much an impossible experiment especially for George who I never thought of as an experimenter, you know. Who else was there?

Sullivan

Well of course, Drake did Project Ozma which is a whole separate thing.

Findlay

Yes, yes, and youíve talked to him about all of that and Iíve no contributions to make there except if he didnít tell what I regard as the truth, Iíll saying it on one aspect of Ozma. I do remember Drake suggesting after the Morrison Cocconi paper but saying, I think it was in his mind before that, "Letís do this." I remember sitting around in the control building of the unfinished 85 foot telescope, Drake and myself and Heeschen and Iím pretty sure Struve or it might have been Berkner but it was a sufficiently good group. We asked ourselves the question, "How shall we cope with this publically?" And we agreed, I thought, that he would do the experiment as well as we could, the results should almost certainly be negative but that we should not say anything about the fact that we are doing the experiment until we had the results and at that stage it should be written up by Frank and presented and that isnít the way it came out.

Sullivan

You mean...

Findlay

Otto gave it away in his famous course of lectures at MIT. For some reason, as I said his mind was not as it should have been. He felt that he wanted something to say about NRAO and so he told the world about what we were doing. Then of course, the sky fell in, as you know, and Drake would have told you everything, what happened after that and it didnít make all that much difference but we could have got on very well without any of that nonsense. And we also discussed what right have we to do it. What would we do if we got a positive answer?

Sullivan

Well of course, these questions are still debated today.

Findlay

Thatís right. [Findlay: Well, Iím still being faced with the real possibility that the Cambridge group did the same thing?] Our answer was take a deep breath and for two or three or four days or however long itís necessary to do it, donít say a word to anybody and check and check and check and I was delighted to see the Cambridge group doing the same thing.

Sullivan

With the pulsar.

Findlay

With the pulsar and then all we could say was call up the science advisor and tell him we have important piece of scientific information which he and the president should have and after that we are going to leave it to you.

Sullivan

So you decided that in 1958 that would be your course of action?

Findlay

As far as one can decide anything. Of course, we probably wouldnít have held.

Sullivan

Was that ever written down?

Findlay

No, I donít think so but it was clear that didnít matter but Otto giving it away- Otto shouldnít have done that. We had agreed that we wouldnít.

Sullivan

The observations were in progress at that time?

Findlay

I think his course of lectures can be dated. It was the one with the name to it at MIT; about four or five lectures which were subsequently published.

Sullivan

I know the one you mean.

Findlay

I think the observations were going on and I assume, if you want it, you realize we do have- I went through them and again only a year or two- but we do have the observing logs of Ozma.

Sullivan

In fact, Iíve made copies of them several years ago at Green Bank.

Findlay

So you know what was observed and not a great deal of observing time was spent but an adequate. Drake did a satisfactory job and I went back because I wanted to check on that point, do we have the telescope operator observing logs, and we do.

Sullivan

Yeah, I copied them about four years ago. What other people do you remember?

Findlay

Early scientists with the exception of Grote Reber, well there is nothing much to remember about him.

Sullivan

Well, he came and assembled his dish, you mean.

Findlay

Yeah, well he was there for a year. He tried to start his own wave experiments in the valley, you know this I think. Donít you?

Sullivan

Well, Iíve forgotten but he must have told me because Iíve interviewed him at tremendous lengths.

Findlay

Yes. He went into a valley just over the Greenbrier, in the way he went over there you know, and scanned around and said Iíd like to build an antenna over there. Well, it meant cutting down I supposed 1000 acres of trees that didnít belong to us and Otto handled him. Otto invited him for a year to do as he liked and he built some equipment. I remember him making some equipment for measuring impedances at those very low frequencies. He supervised the building of his own antenna but that was a fairly minor task. We had collected all the bits and it was fairly straight forward but it was a nice job. Well, he grew beans. He published a paper on beans, you must have that one. I canít remember what else he did except just be Grote Reber.

Sullivan

He must have told me but the plan must have been he was going to do a low frequency experiment at the next solar minimum in 1965.

Findlay

He did say the minimum but he had the idea then of essentially looking...

Sullivan

He did it in Tasmania again.

Findlay

Yes, thatís right and I think his idea was the same one. I didnít take it very seriously because there was no way we were going to go over there only ten miles away into a virgin valley and build a telescope for him and he did ask Otto if he could stay and Otto quite rightly said, "No, Grote weíd rather you didnít." He was no responsibilities of ours. It was nice to have him around but my opinion is that he would have been quite a nuisance to the National Observatory if he stayed there. He is a nuisance. An attractive nuisance is a good way of putting it; delightful nuisance, but we were busy. Who else did we have in those early days as scientists? Rad [Venkataraman Radhakrishnan] knows this story. I refused to have Radhakrishnan, this is one of my real successes so you can have this one. A friend of Lloydís who was in Sweden wrote a note to Lloyd saying there is an Indian at Rydbeckís observatory who is absolutely first class and I knew this friend of Lloyd. And Lloyd passed this information on to me and said, "You should get in touch with him." And Iíd worked in India for four years and I remember saying to Lloyd, "My experience is Indians come in two kinds: very good Indians and very bad Indians." Iím not going to follow this one up. I told Rad this and he roared with laughter and said, "I wouldnít have come anyway." He very soon went straight to Caltech. But I felt that was a good enough story, I guess myself, to tell Rad; either theyíre good or theyíre bad. And of course, he was one of the good ones.

Sullivan

Good British colonial attitude there.

Findlay

Oh yes, I mean he was very happy with that story.

Sullivan

Ok well, letís get into the 300 foot. What was the motivation to build this dish, first of all?

Findlay

Simply the desire for a big telescope and 21 cm. The only requirements were big collecting area and 21 cm operation. There was no specific science we were going for. Lovell was operating but not at 21 cm. We were a national observatory by that time spending quite a lot money per year in operating with one 85 foot telescope and we could see clearly enough, Mr. McNamara was Secretary of Defense. I forget whether he had cancelled Sugar Grove at the time that I started.

Sullivan

That was í61 or so.

Findlay

Yes, I think it was right when we started or just after we started but the signals were in the air that, these were the younger men talking, in our opinion we could be Xed over night. He only had to look over the valley; 30 miles away.

Sullivan

But how would McNamara X out an NSF?

Findlay

Yeah but you know what Washington like, donít you? And it would be perfectly possible.

Sullivan

Hold on, maybe Iím misunderstanding, because it would be in conflict with these?

Findlay

No, no, just because if people are going to kill one dish...

Sullivan

Then why not kill the other one.

Findlay

Well, the 140 foot is the one he would kill, you see. I mean it had been one the ground for three years with $7 million down the drain and not he but anyone, the NSF, could have taken their line from him. They werenít happy. We got an 85 foot dish and a 140 foot face down not being built; literally not being built.

Sullivan

Well, speaking of unhappiness, I mean, there is, of course, this intrinsic conflict almost which continues till this day between universities and NRAO in divvying up the NSF pie, were they...?

Findlay

Were the universities supportive of NRAO?

Sullivan

Yes.

Findlay

Verbally, yes but behind those words, who knows.

Sullivan

I mean for instance in the 140 foot, were people saying cut it?

Findlay

Well, yes. Not quite as bluntly as that but people were saying, "Even if it works, you are building a monster which will impinge on our university research funds," and they have proved to be right.

Sullivan

It does impinge on university funds.

Findlay

Well, some universities lost their radio astronomy whether that is NRAOís fault; it is up for discussion.

Sullivan

That is a trend that has continued.

Findlay

I donít say we were running that scared, Woody, because I quite definitely believed in this, I was saying, "We can have a large telescope at 21 cm for not much money, we can have it quickly if we are prepared just to go and built it without going into a lot of argument about how good itís got to be."

Sullivan

And to give up the full steerability.

Findlay

My first shot was going to be an Arecibo, a hole in the ground. Arecibo- Bill [William E.] Gordon had it half-planned. I went to Cornell and looked into it all and found a hole the ground at Green Bank, not a hole but nice valley where you could built it. I was only going for about 300 feet. I just wanted it to be level, you know; to have a dish as big as his. So 400 or 500 feet; a hole in the ground would have done a good job for us.

Sullivan

With a traveling feed?

Findlay

Yeah, but Marshall Cohen, among others up there, put me off. I asked him about the feed and it was clear that you canít do the feed. The feed problem is insolvable.

Sullivan

And of course, it was insolvable for several years at Arecibo.

Findlay

So I remember, we came back and I said, "Well the obvious thing, Reber did it, build a transit telescope. Itís going to be good enough for a lot of work. It wonít do hydrogen line, well we had not foreseen Mort Roberts and hydrogen in other galaxies in any detail at that time so mapping hydrogen as Westerhout did, Heeschen particularly, and [Ivan I. K.] Pauliny-Toth was also an early visitor- Ivan was there [???], I forget his name but they were very interesting in checking frequencies"

Sullivan

: [?]

Findlay

[?], [?], thatís right. And they were very interesting in checking the 3C catalog particularly for Dave Heeschenís interest in extra-galactic objects, radio galaxies, and lots and lots of...

Sullivan

The Wade and Heeschen survey?

Findlay

Yeah, thatís right. And so when I said to them, "Why donít we do this?" Everybody said, yeah thatís fine, that will do our job for us. So thatís the way it came about and the rest was basically simple. You can now put it into your record. Iím very proud of it. There was no single design line on a piece of paper and 23 months later there was a hydrogen line observation and I wish we could do that now too.

Sullivan

So it was very straight forward in the building?

Findlay

Very straight forward. There was no problem because we kept it fairly quiet. We didnít make a great performance about what we were trying to do. We could get enough money so to use our own, so to speak, internal resources we just went ahead and had it designed, and let the contracts and watched it go up and measured the steel, put the steel surface on and turned it on.

Sullivan

Right, that went into operation in í62?

Findlay

I would have to look it up again. Yes because someone was asking me just now. They wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary and they wanted to do it this year. He looked it up and Iím pretty sure it was í62.

Sullivan

Next year is the appropriate year.

Findlay

And it was only supposed to work for ten years.

Sullivan

Well, itís incredible how long itís lasted.

Findlay

We rebuilt it, of course. Donít forget. What you see now is far better than the one I built. We spent much more.

Sullivan

Still, much less expense than it would have been to build it from scratch. I mean the same with the 250 foot.

Findlay

Oh yes but, like you were saying with Otto, it gave us legitimacy. We had a big collecting area. Even Merle Tuve came down and put his hydrogen line receiver on it; things of that kind. Observers came and we became to be a real radio observatory.

Sullivan

And therefore made it more feasible to put some more money into the 140 foot?

Findlay

Well, Iíve forgotten when the 140 foot restarted. I think after the 300 foot was working.

Sullivan

Iím not sure about that.

Findlay

At the beginning of Max Small- well this doesnít matter to the story, itís beyond it- but the Trustees appointed Max and between them they went back to the NSF and made a good cost estimate and said, itís going to cost you another $12 million or whatever was the number. And presented with that number, the NSF said yes and Max Small after that did as good of job- that is he didnít spend any more money than that. It wasnít 12 but it was a lot.

Sullivan

But why did they have confidence in him given the past experience?

Findlay

That was the AUI Trustees; there were two or three men there whose names I would have to go back to, who believed that Max Small could do it. He was the engineering manager of the Cosmotron. Thatís in his record and he had done a very good job at [BNL [Brookhaven National Laboratory]?] on that and this was purely a building job. You didnít have to be a radio astronomer.

Sullivan

So based on that success?

Findlay

Based on that. The Trustees, so to speak, picked up the job first of all. Ted Reynolds was the man. He got Stone Webster from Boston, a big company, and they worked at it looking to see what could be done and having got a reasonable plan, they then brought Max in and said, ok, weíll get you the money and thatís another good man in the NSF. I remember going to that meeting when they finally said yes.

End of Tape 151B

Sullivan Tape 152A

Sullivan

Ok, this is continuing with John Findlay on 14 August 1981. What I was going to say in closing can you just describe in a couple minutes what the basic design fault was in the 140 foot from your point of view? Or was it a management thing, not a design thing?

Findlay

No, that is quite correct clear. There were basically many things that one would never do again in the 140 foot that would not have prevented it from working, like making polar-mounted. You can write a lot about that or say a lot about that. It was a silly decision but not all that silly and not impossible. But the basic thing was just simply how to support the weight of that telescope in an engineerly satisfactory manner and the design was for it to rest all its 2000 tons, as it does now, on a steel sphere supported by a bearing of the oil pad, as we called it, the hydraulic bearing [?]. Well, an oil pad bearing must be precise. The oil thickness must remain good. The sphere was designed to be too small. Sorry, I got that wrong way round. The sphere was designed to be too big, just as a shell, and under the weight of the telescope the sphere would deflect and that would hurt the performance of the bearing. But a secondary thing was the method of manufacturing the sphere was beyond the limit of any machine tool in the world and it was going to be finally machine-turned there in Green Bank on a specially built lathe. You might call it [?] the bearings. And that plus the fact that it was deflecting then forced them to design a supporting egg box structure inside the sphere and at that point, the Bliss Company decided we cannot build this sphere. They were building it.

Sullivan

They had started?

Findlay

They had started and they were trying to weld the egg box structure inside the sphere and every time they welded they got the tri-axial stresses built up, of course, because the egg box was doing this inside and when they cooled, of course, the tri-axial stresses were cracking the welds that were already made and the project ended. I mean I am simplifying this but essentially with a letter from Bliss to AUI saying that, "We simply cannot build the sphere as it is designed."

Sullivan

So it was a very specific design fault, you are saying?

Findlay

Letís just say, I prefer to call it a design stupidity because Iím quite sure nobody looked forward to the attempt to machine that thing to, I think, it was .002 inch. I mean one could do it but at Green Bank seemed idiot. And the only thing basically thing that was changed with the design was to make the sphere smaller, to make it solid. Make it small for two reasons: it would go through the tunnels in its machined form and we surveyed all the tunnels into Green Bank.

Sullivan

Those would be the railroad tunnels?

Findlay

Thatís right. We measured those. It would go through the tunnels and it was small enough to be machined finally- I think it was Westinghouse but the photograph is in the book- on an existing thing and after that the rest of the telescope is extremely close to Ned Ashtonís original design.

Sullivan

In terms of the weight supporting and these tremendously thick walls and so forth?

Findlay

All that is basically as it was. I think that is all written up by Max Small.

Sullivan

Well, I was just interested in your opinion also but the decision to have the equatorial mount is always puzzling to me in the sense that America had always been the leader in computers and transistor technology and you would have thought that would have been made but maybe the person who was doing the designing was not really into electronics, is that the reason?

Findlay

No, that was the committee, the committee that was supervising the project. I sat in the meeting, if it wasnít the final decision on that, no the decision had essentially had been taken but the committee was still saying why and the why was that nobody wished to risk the performance of a large astronomical telescope on the performance of a computer. And that is fantastic, isnít it, but donít forget it must have been 1955 when Kennedy had given them an alt-az design. Jacob Feld had given them an alt-az design and Ashton had given them a polar design.

Sullivan

But there still must have been nobody on the committee who was really knowledgeable about computers?

Findlay

They did have a study made by MIT which I think was favorable.

Sullivan

Now, of course, the whole approach is to have some kind of axis converter which in this very same era was being designed at Parkes.

Findlay

No, that wouldnít do. No, that I knew and [Hooghoudt?] had done it and Parkes had done it and they had both used the [coordinate?] converter and both had achieved the same accuracy but it was between 1 and 2 arc minutes and the pointing requirement engraved, you know like Mary Queen of Scots, on my heart, was 10 arc seconds.

Sullivan

Why so small?

Findlay

These numbers were fixed, absolutely unchangeable.

Sullivan

Well, what was the shortest operating wavelength?

Findlay

It was all fitted. It was 3 cm.

Sullivan

It was 3 cm?

Findlay

3 cm and the beam width at 3 cm, we do this, is 3 arc minutes and we were going perhaps to 10 arc second a bit heavy but 20 would have done.

Sullivan

But that is the fundamental reason?

Findlay

Yes, that was it. No, I could have been in on that one. Once I saw 10 arc seconds and this is one of the things Iíve been with [Hooghoudt?] and with the Australians without having gone there with Taffy Bowen [E. G. "Taffy" Bowen] because Iíd met him was that nobody will make a mechanical [coordinate?] converter to this accuracy so that was it. I wasnít a computer expert at that time. In any case, the decision had been taken. Thatís it. Those words are the truth; facts as best as I know them.

Sullivan

Ok. That about finishes what I wanted. Do you have any other comments up to this stage?

Findlay

No, I hope you can manage with all of that.

Sullivan

Thank you very much. Youíve been very helpful. Ok, that ends the interview with John Findlay on 14 August 1981.

Part 1 | Part 3

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