[John Findlay, 1963]
Findlay, 1963 (Photo courtesy of NRAO/AUI/NSF)



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 2

Sullivan

This is continuing with John Findlay on 18 August 1981 at URSI in Washington. Well, two topics that we missed a couple of days ago. The first was your horn antenna [Calibration Horn Antenna, also known as Little Big Horn] that you built at Green Bank. Could you tell me what was motivation for it and how you built it and what results came out of it in the early years?

Findlay

Yes, at that time, there was really not very good knowledge of the spectra of many radio sources and so it was necessary to measure in absolute terms the flux of a few sources at quite a number of frequencies and it was Fred Haddock who said to me, "Why donít you measure Cas A and measure it with a horn antenna, standard [gain?] horn." So I built the horn. I actually started it by planning to build it pointing south which was silly. It should point north and have a slope of the right value, 30į, build a horn on it and from that time on I had regularly measured the flux of Cas A. Whether the results were any great value- Iíve only done it on two frequencies, 1440 and 1810 MHz.

Sullivan

This horn is roughly how large? Do you know?

Findlay

About 125 feet long, in my recollection, is the end dimensions. The big end is 17.5 feet by about 12 feet.

Sullivan

Right and in those first three or four years did you make regular measurements?

Findlay

Fairly regular. As a matter of fact, itís a transit telescope, of course. Itís just pointing up a slope as such an azimuth that Cas A goes through the beam and I generally have always made nighttime measures and that conveniently is summer. The transit is midnight at just about at the middle of the summer which is a nice time to observe at Green Bank.

Sullivan

Right, now did you have any idea in your mind about possibility of varying with time, a long time variation?

Findlay

No, we just checked back on that and when I built it, I think youíre right in saying that the variability had not been found and, of course, thatís not a very serious disadvantage for the source. The disadvantages are that it is too large a diameter really to be used for present day telescopes but that spectrum has been the transfer spectrum generally.

Sullivan

Even today.

Findlay

Yes and it is still used very greatly by the practical people, you know, by the people doing ground based satellite.

Sullivan

Antenna [gain?] calibration and that sort of thing.

Findlay

Yeah, thatís right.

Sullivan

Now, when [Kurt, Bowman, Shakeshaft?] said, "I think weíve got evidence of Cas A varying," did you go back to your two or three years by that time? Could you see it?

Findlay

Yes. In fact, the first paper I published did show a variation. Of course, it was a clumsy and very difficult way to see a variation when you are measuring in absolute terms. The easy way there, what they did, is to look...

Sullivan

The ratio with Cygnus.

Findlay

And we had such an experiment at Green Bank. Heeschen ran a simple transit telescope source comparison which showed the variation too.

Sullivan

I see. After the discovery, he was motivated to do that?

Findlay

Yes.

Sullivan

Well, the other subject that we didnít talk about was the 1959 WARC Conference [World Administrative Conference] and, even more specifically, the attitude of the radio astronomy community towards interference and protection, can you tell me a little bit about what think?

Findlay

Yes, I would like to do that. And Iíll go all the way back and say, as I just said to you, it was as early as 1950 and maybe even before, there were movements in URSI to develop the desire for protection of radio frequency bands and in some way those never came to anything and so it was not until the fact Sputnik went up that really alerted people to the fact that radio astronomy was really at risk. You know, when things fly around the sky itís a risk.

Sullivan

In fact, you said that URSI actually in some early stage, around 1950 perhaps, refused to or that they made a resolution and withdrew it at a later...?

Findlay

I think if you like that, I will look it up and try to remember to send you a notice to what happened because my memory is no good now as to exactly who did what.

Sullivan

But they were hardly strongly in favor in any case of protection?

Findlay

No, they were not. They were not and the thing came to a head again in preparation for the 1959 WARC when it was pretty clear that internationally we didnít have a good, strong position and I was appointed in the URSI 1957 meeting in Boulder to lead a sub-commission, an international group to get a good, strong position for radio astronomers written into the CCIR papers [Comite Consultatif International des Radiocommunications] so that you could get to WARC that way but also generated in some countries so that the radio astronomy position would put on the table by some countries. A long story short, I did do that. I talked with the science advisor in Washington, [George B.] Kistiakowsky.

Sullivan

Well, that was a good story.

Findlay

That was an amusing one because it so happened that I didnít realize old Otto Struve knew him.

Sullivan

Because they were both Russian immigrants.

Findlay

Yes, they were both Russian immigrants, white Russians. I think Calvary officers. And so Otto and I went to call on Kistiakowsky. We didnít realize until I read Kistiakowskyís book [A Scientist at the White House] that he had only just been sworn in that morning. We were his first official visitors and Iím in his book as John W. Findlay of the New York Times but Otto was there alright and the conversation is directly recorded. I explained the position and he said, "Youíve got to go international." The position being, you see, that the United States had made a position on radio astronomy which was not good enough and Kistiakowsky said quite rightly, "Go and see [Wallace ?] in the State Department and see whether he can help you."

Sullivan

So to be a broader base to support to have any chance?

Findlay

Thatís right. He said, "Go international." [Wallace Grove?] was a... you can delete that bit. So I did and Oort, of course, was the man who helped. Ryle didnít help much. Lovell helped. Oort was a great help. When I went to see Oort, he just said, ĎWell, itís quite easy." We had already developed a CCIR position for the hydrogen line, the only line we knew at that time, and these optic bands all the way through the spectrum with adequate bandwidth. I explained this is Jan Oort, he just said, "Easy. That will be the Netherlands position at the conference," and so it was.

Sullivan

Were there any international allocations for radio astronomy before the í59 WARC?

Findlay

No, none at all. In fact, we didnít win as much as we should have done at the WARC.

Sullivan

But some individual countries, I suppose, had some, probably in Holland?

Findlay

No, there was not. We were just doing that thing, you see. What I did in ionospheric research, really turn on a transmitter. You donít tell anybody and the radio astronomers turned on their receivers and not worried.

Sullivan

Yeah but there were regulations. You were supposed to report transmitters werenít you?

Findlay

Not ionospheric transmitters, not [???].

Sullivan

Really?

Findlay

Theyíre not sending intelligence. There is something like that. The sweep frequency transmitter... How are you doing?

Sullivan

We have about five minutes.

Findlay

Let me do this little one about the war itself.

Sullivan

Well, I would like to ask about the general situation of interference in radio astronomy observations. You didnít do that many yourself in the Ď50s but you were probably cognizant of the situation. I mean was it a problem?

Findlay

No. The problems I can recollect from Ryleís group were the florescent lamps in the neighboring buildings and, of course, the automobile traffic that was up the road. No, no. Those frequencies bands were remarkably open.

Sullivan

The spectrum was open.

Findlay

Yes, yes. What did he start on? 81 MHz, do you remember?

Sullivan

Yeah, roughly.

Findlay

That was his lower, then 160 MHz and on up except for the well-known military radar experiment with the old 200 MHz radars were there, there wasnít much.

Sullivan

So it was really looking to the future?

Findlay

Yes, like I said, I think it was the Sputnik threat, the satellite threat, that woke everybody up.

Sullivan

So what were you going to say?

Findlay

The conference itself was from the United Stateís point of view almost either a tragedy or a joke. Oort came in, the Netherlands came in and the United States was opposing the Netherlands and astronomy and, it wasnít Sullivan, the other one, the New York Times man, anyhow, ran the headline. Iíve got the headline, "United States Opposed to Radio Astronomy and Science" and that brought the house down. Actually five members of the delegation were flown back from Geneva to meet with us in the National Academy to redo the American position halfway through. You can imagine how popular we were. It was a shocking piece of work on our part.

Sullivan

So you mean that one New York Times article really swung it?

Findlay

That swung it. Well, people triggered that. Struve triggered that. So did Leo Goldberg.

Sullivan

Well, the article didnít happen accidently.

Findlay

No, it didnít happen accidently at all and they were ok. But we got a pretty good position from the United States at the end of the conference and then at subsequent conferences, we won a lot. At smaller conferences which were devoted to space and we joined on with space. Space and radio astronomy were considered twice at conferences, whose dates Iíve forgotten, before this latest 1979 WARC.

Sullivan

Right, in the Ď60s and Ď70s.

Findlay

Yeah, yeah.

Sullivan

What was the U.S. wanting to do with, for instance, the 1420 MHz band? Do you happen to remember? Military?

Findlay

No, they were prepared to clear that. What we have now 1400-1427 that was in the United Statesí position for radio astronomy. It was the only thing that was and the rest was local arrangements.

Sullivan

I see.

Findlay

Of course, we didnít have OH at that time.

Sullivan

There were no other lines that were proposed by the radio astronomers?

Findlay

No, no, or did we write down deuterium on a prediction? I believe we might have done but nobody took any notice of it.

Sullivan

Yeah. There had been a couple papers, by Townes was one, talking about the OH line but, of course, their frequencies werenít that accurate.

Findlay

Yes and we all felt that we arenít going to argue for anything until we observe it.

Sullivan

It was unlikely it was going to be important on anybodyís case. Ok.

Findlay

That will do it.

Sullivan

Thank you very much.

Findlay

Very good.

Sullivan

And that ends the little disjointed part of the interview with John Findlay on 18 August í81. The first parts of the interview are on tapes 148, 151, 152 and this is the end of the tape. No need to listen any further.

Part 1 | Part 2

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