[Howard, 1964]
Howard, 1964 (Photo courtesy of NRAO/AUI/NSF)



NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with William E. Howard, III
At NRAO, Green Bank, West Virginia
September 7, 1971
Interview Time: 40 minutes
Transcribed for Sullivan by Bonnie Jacobs

Note: The interview listed below was either transcribed as part of Sullivan's research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History or 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.

Sullivan

Ok, this is interviewing Bill Howard at NRAO, 7 September 1971. What is the true formaldehyde story?

Howard

I guess it dates back to a point where Lew [Lewis E.] Snyder, who was one of the four discoverers, first came to NRAO [the National Radio Astronomy Observatory]- one could look up the date - you probably know when it was [while doing it?]. He came from a physics department, I guess it was Michigan State University, with a background in physics. He had done work on computing molecular line frequencies. And you must remember at that point there were, I think it was only H and O that were discovered.

Sullivan

So you're talking pre-water and ammonia?

Howard

Pre-water and ammonia. And so at that point he came with an interest in looking for other molecular lines at NRAO. And he was eager to get observing time, and put in some requests. Or I'm not sure even that they were formal - they were verbal in the beginning. He then teamed up with Dave [David] Buhl, who had a lot of observational experience at that point. And the two of them started out with the idea of wanting to observe water vapor. Their request, the initial one, wanted to do water vapor mainly in the planets. As I recall, Venus and Jupiter were the main ones that they wanted to look for water.

Sullivan

When was this request?

Howard

I can look that up for you if you want and let you know the date.

Sullivan

Was that sometime in '68?

Howard

This was sometime approximately a year before [Charles H.] Townes and his group actually found it. So I would say, let's say something of the order of February '68. This request went to the referees. There was one referee that came back and suggested that it was the wrong time to do it for Venus because Venus was in such a position of radio velocity that the terrestrial water vapor line would coincide with that of the planet Venus, and suggested that one have a different doppler shift, a wider doppler shift. And therefore one should look at it at a different time. Well, this seemed to be a fairly critical comment, which I then gave back to the twosome. They then revised their request and their revision came in something like, I think it was August of the same year. And, both the first request and the second request said that they wanted to do water vapor after [William J.] Welch at Berkeley had his turn on his own telescope.

Sullivan

They felt he had some priority?

Howard

Well, you must recall that Buhl was a student of Welch.

Sullivan

No, I didn't know that.

Howard

I'm not quite sure at this point whether there was any consideration that Buhl didn't want to do it ahead of Welch or just what the situation was.

Sullivan

It must have been something like that.

Howard

At that point anyway, NRAO did not have a 22 GC system to look for water vapor. Although, I think if that clause had not been in there we might have been able to push it slightly ahead of when it finally did come on. Whether or not we would have put it on [???] which would have beaten out the Berkeley group [???]. But at any rate, as you know then, history showed that the Berkeley group got it first. But because it had been predicted by Snyder and Buhl, automatically the prestige of the Observatory went up as a result of this. And, so we were a little bit more anxious than we had been before to put them on as early as we could or whatever else they wanted to do. Well, they came in with a number of requests in January of 1969. As a matter of fact, they flooded us with requests at many different frequencies for many different molecules.

Sullivan

Not only they, but other people?

Howard

They were first. And among these was formaldehyde. The two of them wanted to do the formaldehyde line at 4830 [GHz?]. And as a matter of fact they had then been assigned to observing time for late March of Ď69 when the new 22 GC system, no, I'm sorry, when the 6 cm system was on. And early in March there was a program which we had already scheduled designed to do something else, by [Patrick] Palmer and [Benjamin M.] Zuckerman. It also included Ed [Edward A.] Lilley from Harvard. I'm not sure whether the request concluded or not [???]. But at any rate, I don't know whether they had gotten over-assigned with telescope time. Ben Zuckerman wanted to do formaldehyde and he called up and asked whether some of that time which had been assigned in early March could be used for formaldehyde.

Sullivan

The proposal he had had nothing to do with formaldehyde?

Howard

The proposal he had had nothing to do with formaldehyde. It was something else entirely. It may have been recombination lines, I forget. But at any rate, I said, no. That toward the end of the month there were already 2 or 3 days that had been assigned to Buhl and Snyder. Well, then he said if he were to call up Buhl and Snyder in order to pitch in with them as a foursome could they then do formaldehyde earlier? And I said yes, but that is entirely up to Buhl and Snyder, whether they want to do that. And he said, well we have a bargaining point because we have more time. I said, "Well that fine if you can set it up." Well, they did get together and as I understand it very shortly after they got on the air they found formaldehyde.

Sullivan

Let me just ask one question. Who decides that that period of time can go to formaldehyde rather than the original request whatever it was?

Howard

Since the people who had been assigned the time wanted to do it in their own time then it just becomes a matter of the NRAO saying that they can do it as long as it doesn't conflict with any other proposal.

Sullivan

Right, who makes that decision?

Howard

The Director's office. So in this particular case what happened was that there was another proposal that had already had time scheduled for it and as a result of that it became up to the people who had the scheduled time to also release [???]. Well, that doesn't end the story. Of course, formaldehyde at that point was a very unusual molecule and as soon as it was found we realized that this would have a great impact on the science because here it was 1969 and the last discovery had been made in '63 - so there was about a 6-year gap.

Sullivan

No, you had ammonia and water in there.

Howard

Oh, I'm sorry, that's right.

Sullivan

I remember during that year though it was very surprising - we were looking for molecules like hell at NRL [Naval Research Laboratory].

Howard

Yes.

Sullivan

Things that have since been found, as a matter of fact, at K band. Very surprised that we didn't find more like that. There was a long gap, then formaldehyde, then the flood gates really opened up.

Howard

That's right.

Sullivan

CO, CN, HCN...

Howard

But formaldehyde was by far at that point the most complicated.

Sullivan

You said that it wasn't the end of the story.

Howard

No, that's not the end of the story. There is a matter now of having found this and what do you do with it. Because, first of all, it was a fairly strong line. It was a line that somebody else could have found on the 6 cm system. And, of course the fellows that found it wanted to get the credit for it. There was a discussion among the group as to where it should be published ultimately. Some wanted Physical Review, those who were physically inclined, some wanted the Astrophysical Journal, and I think through results of some discussion [they were going to?] the Physical Review Letters [???]. We also knew at that point that this was somewhat newsworthy and we wanted to get it out into the news media. But at that point, the policy was not to put it into the news media until it could come out in the journal. And some journals in that day, some still, almost insist that it be [???] to this policy.

Sullivan

In fact, almost all of them do don't they? Or is it really in fields that...

Howard

Yes, but I think it's declining now. For example, public money is spent on this, we can make the case, fairly strongly I think, if public money is spent the public deserves to know about it as soon as possible. But the scientists themselves can still debate the issue after it comes out in the journal. But at any rate, at a national observatory it's very hard to keep something like this a secret for very long. And the attempt was made, I think that what we hoped for was something like 2 weeks or more. It was fairly evident that it could get into a journal at the end of say 2 or 3 weeks' time. We were working with the journal editors on this because we were preparing a release through the American Institute of Physics and they do only 2 or 3 of these releases per month, I understand, in particular Physical Review Letters. So we had...

End of Tape 2B

Sullivan Tape 3A

Sullivan

So, we are talking about the press release - the formaldehyde story.

Howard

For something of the order of a week, only the group knew, the four discoverers, myself, I think Dave [David S.] Heeschen, possibly one or two other people locally... we kept it fairly much to ourselves...

Sullivan

A few wives?

Howard

Yes, a few wives. But it's very difficult to do that at a national observatory because, for example, the output of the computer is fairly common, people can wander by, look at it, its output, not on purpose mind you but [with some strain?], right?

Sullivan

People would never do that on purpose, eh?

Howard

And, then one or two visitors at NRAO found out about this, and despite a certain amount of swearing to secrecy word slowly got out. The details, I guess, are fairly immaterial. I learned that they first emerged at a Cornell colloquium carried on by someone from Harvard. So almost immediately the Cornell and the Harvard people knew about this. The next thing that happened was that it appeared in the Boston Globe, in the morning edition, through an article that was written by Victor McElheny. I was away that day and was returning to the observatory in the evening and when I got home at about 6 o'clock, I received a frantic phone call from one of the participants, Buhl or Snyder, saying that they had gotten a call from Walter Sullivan from the New York Times and could they tell him about the details of the formaldehyde and what should they do? Well, the justification for the call from Sullivan was that it had already appeared in the Boston Globe and if it was there then was it not at that point common knowledge? Well, the only thing to do at that point is to just talk about it. So discussions were held by telephone to Sullivan and at the same time we began to get worried about our interface with the Physical Review Letters because the editor there knew that we were trying to keep it a secret. And, so we called the editor at 10 o'clock at night at home. This was not Sam [Samuel] Goudsmit, it was another editor in his office. Goudsmit, at this point, was on the West Coast. We had a discussion with him and told him the cat was out of the bag - he more or less threw up his hands and said "Well, we tried". But the very next day, when Goudsmit was winging his way back from the West Coast, apparently he set down in Chicago and bought a newspaper and saw it. Then we got a very irate telephone call saying that NRAO had in some way caused this to get into the paper and he was upset about it - that it was contrary to the position that the journal was taking and in essence that we were very bad boys.

Sullivan

So Physical Review Letters considered this a pretty important article themselves?

Howard

I presume so, yes. Although in fairness, I don't think that it got any preferential treatment in Physical Letters. On the other hand, it wasn't delayed either. So, at any rate, this phone call went through and we were properly chastised for having done something beyond our control. We were rather upset about this, I think, but we learned later from Bob Hokum, who was in on the other end of the conversation, that at the end of the conversation Sam Goudsmit put the telephone dawn and grinned and said, "Well, that will hold them for awhile - let's go for coffee". So that's the end of the formaldehyde tale. It was a rather intriguing one.

Sullivan

But they did publish it?

Howard

Oh yes, they did publish it. It came out.

Sullivan

How much time was that before it came out - after this incident?

Howard

My recollection is that the time was only of the order of a few weeks - two to three weeks - something like that.

Sullivan

Are you more or less in charge of PR for NRAO?

Howard

Yes, thatís right. We try to spot things that are newsworthy - things that the press might be interested in, and we do this not only for our staff but also for visitors.

Sullivan

Take them over before the press gets them? Have you found that the press - are they always trying to get around you?

Howard

No. I think that the press - if you try to hold something from the press and the press learns about it, the press will not go to us, because this puts them into a situation where we would ask them not to do it and then they would be morally bound not to do it. And in the case of McElheny, he was just being a good reporter. He found this out from a route that I'm not quite sure of - I have a suspicion that one or two people probably leaked it to him - and instead of calling back and asking me or asking the principals, he just began asking other people about the significance and about whether or not it had been found . It was reasonably certain that it had been found. It was a good news story and so he used it.

Sullivan

And he always liked a scoop all his own?

Howard

That's right. But on the other hand, I'm sure that if I had gone to him to begin with and said, "Here is the story, we would not like to have it out until [???] today", then they would have honored that. And that's what we were doing in cooking up this press release with the American Institute of Physics office. But, that time scale was just a little bit too long...

Sullivan

What about the - as we just mentioned it was shortly thereafter that CO, CN, & HCN and the whole array - Has this all gone much more smoothly or was this the formaldehyde sort of thing?

Howard

Yes. Formaldehyde was the best of all of this. The other ones - there was a tendency after lines were discovered since then to try also for quick publication and that route of quick publication generally meant they were trying to get in something like the IAU [International Astronomical Union] circular. And then having done that, follow it up by something like the Astrophysical Journal Letters. I think that as a result of our interface with Physical Review Letters which rapidly got around the community, that others did not particularly want to publish there first. They took the astronomical literature route in order to do it. And the time scale for that is of the order I think of a few weeks if the article is basic. A month? A month and a half? Six weeks? Other lines have been handled in many different ways. Some of them have been handled by the discoverers themselves with NRAO interfacing or not. Our policy is completely up in the air. If our local people do it, we certainly want to get involved, we put out releases sometimes through the National Science Foundation and sometimes through AUI [Associated Universities, Inc.]. Sometimes we'll do it ourselves - just give it to, for example, somebody local. A lot depends on the time scale.

Sullivan

Well, to switch slightly. Can you think - that's certainly has been one of the more important discoveries at NRAO since you've been here. Iím drawing a blank right now. I'm sure there's been a couple of others. The Zeeman effect...

[Interview interrupted for a few minutes]

Sullivan

In a more general sense, about the importance of NRAO in U.S. astronomy, obviously, itís been the leading guiding light, shall we say. To what do you attribute this - is it all the director, is it the way NSF has got it set up, or is it that much better than other national organizations?

Howard

I think it a combination of two things. It a combination first of all - well, it's a unique combination of two things: The director plus the realization on the part of the funding agency that you've got to have approximately this level of support to have a good viable visitor institution. So, once the money is available for what we want to do, and in particular, I'm thinking about operations money, and money to keep the telescopes and receivers up-to-date. Capital money is another question, that we've been fighting for quite some time. But initially the capital money was there and the rate at which we built it and the way in which it was managed, I think both of these are uniquely combined in order to make NRAO the way it is. I think locally the main ingredient has been Dave Heeschen. Here you've got a guy who is young, who is viable, who's grown up with the science from the beginning, who has evolved with it, and understands what's needed in order to do a good piece of science, and recognizes it when he sees it. And what he tries to do locally is to create the conditions under which the scientists can work relatively uninhibited, and to spend all the time he wants in science, and to do what he wants in a rather laissez-faire way. Science is not managed here- itís let loose. And I think it's that particular ingredient, plus the fact that you try to strive for people on the scientific staff who are novel and original, and not tie the observatory down to doing work that is primarily a piecemeal type thing for other people. The whole philosophy is to have very large unique instruments which people will want to come and use. To try and make them as flexible as possible so that the myraids of programs that people want to run in a given year can run and not get tied down to rigid systems.

Sullivan

So we're discussing high flying?

Howard

And, in a sense to keep loose scientifically and to let the guys with the ideas have their rein.

Sullivan

The average staff age is pretty young, is it not? The permanent staff?

Howard

Yes, it is, but I think if you take any comparable institution - I'm not sure that you'll find one - but let's say you could take Kitt Peak [National Observatory].

Sullivan

Brookhaven?

Howard

No, not Brookhaven. It's more mature than we are. But take Kitt Peak. It started about the same time. I suspect you'd find there the average age of the staff is similar.

Sullivan

That's true, you have to compare the age of the institution.

Howard

On the other hand, I think that the personalities that the two institutions have developed is something different and I think the success of NRAO is not just due to a low mean age of the staff. I think it's due to lots of other things too. I think that you'll find that other institutions have low mean ages too. The new ones: Bonn probably does, Westerbork probably does. These two institutions are a little too young yet to know exactly what they'll do at this point. But I think that the success of NRAO is not just due to a low mean age.

Sullivan

What is the ratio between permanent staff and postdocs and that sort of thing?

Howard

Well, out of the staff now of say 26 people, we have 13 postdocs, let's say, and the rest are permanent staff.

Sullivan

I want to clarify now - you say NSF, despite all its recent troubles, in cutting back right and left everywhere else, has not cut into your operations budget at least significantly.

Howard

Our operations budget in ensuing years has never been less than the previous year. So from that standpoint they've not cut our budget. The purchasing power of what we're getting is very nearly equal to what it has been before. But, we have not expanded the staff over about 230 permanent staff members in two or three years now. So from that standpoint we're mature in numbers. This does not mean the people go in and out, it just means the total number has not increased.

Sullivan

So, is it a 9 to 1 ratio between scientists and supporting people or engineers, grounds and maintenance, secretaries, computer programmers?

Howard

That's right.

Sullivan

I didn't realize it was so intensive. Of course, you have all the visitors to support too.

Howard

Yes, it might seem high. You have to realize that that supports 100% of the observing, but only 40% of that observing is done by the staff. So that when you're talking about numbers of people - large numbers of people - you're talking about 150 visitors each year at two sites. You're also comparing NRAO, which is wholly self-contained by its entire staff, with other ratios in universities where many of the things that are done here are done by people that are not in evidence. For example, there are fifty departments in universities that you won't count when you are talking about a supporting department.

Sullivan

When you look at the Department of Astronomy at UVA...

Howard

So I don't think that ratio is abnormally out of bounds.

Sullivan

Has anyone ever worked on the numbers of what percentage of U.S. radio astronomy is done at NRAO?

Howard

Yes, Garrett Verschuur has worked up some numbers like this. And I have worked up some numbers just based on the last IAU Commission 40 bibliography list and it turns out that U.S. radio astronomy is overwhelmingly prevalent in the areas of spectral lines work, molecules, recombination lines, hydrogen and OH and so on. It also turns out that, I think, if you look at leading journals over the past three or four years, something over 60% of all the papers that have been published are based on work that has been done at NRAO.

Sullivan

All the journals in the world?

Howard

All journals, no. These were journals like the Astrophysical Journal...

Sullivan

American Journals?

Howard

Yes. Oh, I'm sorry. You look only at American papers in all leading journals including A & A [Astronomy & Astrophysics].

Sullivan

In radio astronomy?

Howard

Well, yes.

Sullivan

60% of those had something to do with NRAO?

Howard

Yes. Well it has to do with work done at NRAO, not only by our own staff but by visitors. And that ratio has kept at about 60% for two years and it was slightly less the year before that, and slightly less the year before that. So, it grew and grew to about 60-65%. I think for a couple of years now it has been about level. This is partly due to the fact that our mix has not changed very much, the numbers of people that we're able to push through the telescopes hasn't changed that much, just because we haven't gotten more telescopes.

Sullivan

Yes, you're sort of at the saturation point?

Howard

Yes.

Sullivan

Does this increase the pressure for time? Are the number of proposals going up relative to what you can give out?

Howard

The number we receive per unit time now is approximately the same as it has been a year or so past. But there was a marked increase it to bring it to that point from prior years. We get proposals at the rate of say one every three days, something like that. It may be a little bit more.

Sullivan

This gives me the whole other area here - expertise which for some reason hadn't occurred to me - the whole business of proposals and how they are decided and so forth. The first obvious question is what percentage of the proposals actually get at least part of the time they asked for?

Howard

I would say over 90%, 90 to 95%. It depends on the telescope too. On the 300 foot, almost virtually all. On the 36 foot, the 140 foot, something on the order of 90-95%. I can't speak as much for the interferometer, but I'm pretty sure in that case the statistics are quite similar.

Sullivan

And what percentage of time is typical to give a person relative to what he asked for versus [???]?

Howard

If you can take the whole mix and integrate over everyone from time that they get divided by time that they requested, the answer is about 2/3. On the other hand, some people - some groups get 100%, some people get far less.

Sullivan

Some don't get 200%?

Howard

Some may get 200%.

Sullivan

Really?

Howard

Well, for example, a person might want an 8 hour stretch of observing and he might come from hundreds of miles away. In order to insure that he's got that 8 hours, because of the vagaries of weather and equipment and so on, we might schedule him for twice that. On the other hand, on a 5-day program we won't schedule him for 10 days. And we would rarely schedule anyone on the 140 foot now for much over a week. If he sincerely needed more time I'm not sure that he would get what he wants - he might be asked to do it now and then come back and do the other part. There has been a lot of criticism over this, and the main criticism is that this delays their publication. In one case, or in the other case, they are publishing with data that don't quite give the signal-to-noise ratio that they'd like to have.

Sullivan

In fact, you are really limiting things to a week or so?

Howard

Yes.

Sullivan

In general, how do you find the relations between NRAO and the visitors relative to this business of which proposals are accepted? Do people think the system works pretty well?

Howard

I think they do. If you compare the - I'm not the proper person to ask because Iím...

Sullivan

Because you are the person running it.

Howard

I think if you compare the criticisms that our constituents have with us, with the criticisms that maybe other national observatories have, I think that you'll find that we come our relatively well. Thatís just saying that there is some average amount of criticism that any national observatory would expect. There are many ways that this criticism can take place. It can take place to me verbally, to other members of the NRAO verbally, it can sometimes get written to me or the Director. It can come up at Users Committees, it can come up at the Visiting Committee meetings, it can come up directly to the National Science Foundation through their committee system. There are lots of checks and balances to see whether or not we are doing a good job.

Sullivan

Does the Users Committee really have much pull or weight?

Howard

It's advisory to the Director and what it does is to get together with a group of people who use us most actively on the order of twice a year. So that we can tell them what it is we plan to do and to seek their advice in the somewhat farther term as to what we should be doing. It gives them a chance to criticize the operation if they want, or to help us point in the direction in a more gentlemanly manner. This doesn't get done quite as much during the sessions as it does in the halls - two-by-two. Either way, it's effective.

Sullivan

It's been my impression that itís more the heads of various departments and small observatories around the country, not really the people who use it the most, like you said. For instance, Connie [Cornell H.] Mayer at NRL, he's not the one that's using NRAO the most at NRL...

Howard

Well, you've got to look at this historically. It turned out in the beginning that there were maybe 10 or 15 people who were users, and we felt in the beginning there ought to be an institutional representative, and the obvious guy was the head guy at that institution. So, you invite him to come and hope that if he has a group he will carry the word back to that group.

Sullivan

And hope that they will likewise give him the [?]?

Howard

Now you take Connie for example. Connie has not used as much in the recent past, but back at the time when he first got on the Committee he was using us very often. And not only that, Connie sometimes does not come now, but he will send a younger person in his place. And so, there has been two tendencies: one tendency is that these old-timers tend to use us less and in some cases they will substitute for themselves some younger person on the staff - sometimes they won't.

Sullivan

In a way it's more the institutions that are represented?

Howard

Well, that is the original philosophy, but if you look to see what's happened, the numbers of people have gone from this initial early number of 10 to 15 up to something on the order of 30 - not all those 30 come to every meeting. They have the opportunity. But one finds that there are younger people and institutional multi-representation. For example, at the University of Maryland, where you're from, there must be 2 or 3 people who come. And so we broadened it - there is no longer the exact institutional representation, and in broadening it, I think we brought in younger people too. So the idea of a pure institutional representation has gone by the board a little bit, but not all that much.

Sullivan

One thing we haven't talked about, as far as the excellence at NRAO, is the electronics area. You said certainly a high level of funding is necessary in order to keep an engineering R & D sort of program going. But once again, this can't happen without the good engineers and the good interaction with the astronomers.

Howard

Well, there's been an evolution in this. I think that a number of people who are responsible for the electronics development who have dealt closely with it - the first being John Findlay, the second being Hein Hvatum and the third being Sam [?]. Back in the very early days, radio astronomy had the idea that the way to develop the instruments was to have a package that we wanted to see, a set of specifications for a particular receiver that could be built by an outside firm. That would be delivered to us almost in the stage where it could be put on the telescope and used right away. It turned out that, I think, with the arrival - either early Hein Hvatum or late John Findlay - we came to the conclusion that this perhaps was not the way to do it, and we ought to experiment by having electronics engineers on our staff of a fairly high caliber who could spot the proper components that we could buy, the best components, and then put them together in a way that was uniquely radio astronomy - something that we would have expected the companies to do under the prior philosophy, but something that they really didnít produce, because they weren't going to use it. They weren't going to be responsible for it after they sold it to us.

Sullivan

You wanted in-house capability?

Howard

We wanted in-house capability.

Sullivan

Hvatum and Findlay were predecessors as head of the electronics division?

Howard

That's right. And, this was one contribution that I think was made, and as soon as it was realized, it sent the observatory a long way toward preeminence in the area of radio astronomy electronics. That, plus the standardization of backends, which Hein was markedly responsible for, plus the standardization of frontend boxes, where one frontend box could be interchangeable between one telescope and another - not only here at NRAO, but you look further into the future, one of these frontend boxes could very easily be clamped on another telescope somewhere else if you wanted to loan the equipment out. This has been successful up to this date only to a degree. There are some telescopes that have compatible foci and others that don't. But in every case of the new ones that were built, we strongly urged that they become compatible and in some instances they've gone that way and in some instances they haven't.

Sullivan

This is both in the focal ratio as well as the size of the frontend structure?

Howard

That's right, the two main things you have to worry about. Then with the maturity that came in the electronics division, one has seen and is now seeing a similar maturity, I think, occurring also in the computer division. There were times when we used to have analog output, punch card output, finally stepping tape recorder output, and finally magnetic tape output and now we are getting into wide band AMPEX output for VLB. And each time you make a jump like this you're asking for a more and more sophisticated computer system. This takes more backup, from the standpoint of either large-scale computers to do the final reduction or online computers to do it at the telescopes, and it takes at the same time fairly sophisticated people to handle the large computer from programming and systems standpoint. And, I think that one can see that with about 1964 or '65 when we made the jump from the IBM 1620 to the 7040, they had to get far more sophisticated than we had in the past. And we're now tied in with an IBM 360 which I think does the job fairly well, although there are others that might do it better.

Sullivan

So, was this Peter Stumpf who really got the computer going?

Howard

There was a combination - there was a gained - the observatory was broken down in the very early stages. I guess it was a combination of converted computer operators who were doing the computing, and I was Acting Head for awhile to about '66 or '67. Then Peter Stumpf took over. I think during the time I was there we went to closed shop on the computer. It used to be open shop prior to that. We went to closed shop, we went to the 7040 system, we designed the 360 system. We had gotten the first programmers from outside the observatory, people like Joe [?] who is still with us, and Paul Hitch, and a few other people who are not, and then Peter Stumpf came in and he carried on, I think, pretty much the same philosophy. Again, I'm a little bit too near this myself to make that sort of comment. I think that others might be better to give an overall picture than I. But Peter left to go back to Bonn and now George Conant has been with us for something on the order of a year.

Sullivan

Well, I think thatís it unless you think of something else you'd like to comment on - the formaldehyde...?

Howard

Oh, full of them, but I'm not sure just what ones to pick.

Sullivan

Thank you very much.

[A small break in the interview]

Sullivan

Bill Howard also mentioned that on the Lew Snyder -Dave Buhl proposal that they did mention galactic sources as secondary search sources. Do you want to tell the Shklovskii story over? Otherwise, Iím going to give up and do my version of it.

Howard

No, I think the Russians might read it.

Sullivan

Well, Iím going to tell it so you have the choice. You can listen and make sure I tell it straight.

Howard

This story occurred about 2 or 3 days after David H. Staelin and [Edward C.] Reifenstein [III] had discovered the Crab Nebula pulsar. And I was phoning Shklovskii in Moscow from Charlottesville to try to find out whether or not he would come to the Jansky Lecture which we had invited him in November of that year. The telephone connection took 5 days to make, and finally I got a hold of him. Well, his English was not very good. He had not been in the country very long nor had he spoken English for very long. And so when I finally found out all I wanted to know - well, I didn't find out what I wanted to know...

End of Tape 3A

Sullivan Tape 3B

Howard

I found out that I want to know but I found out that he didn't know whether he could come or not. I told him all that I knew about the Crab Nebula pulsar discovery which had been made by Staelin-Refenstein on the 300 ft. And he was very eager because, of course, he had been in on the initial stages of the synchrotron theory on the Crab. So, then as the story went later, we heard about this after his visit or during his visit, that there was a big colloquium that afternoon at the Sternberg [Astronomical] Institute in which he also presented the information that I had told him over the telephone. And, of course, everybody knew and realized what the significance of this was, but then he saved his own punch line for the end, and he said, "You will never guess who had done this discovery". He said, "It was a fellow by the name of Reifenstein, and you'll never guess the other one." He says, ĎĎIt was a fellow by the name of Stalin," and nearly broke down the house.

Sullivan

Thank you.


Modified on Monday, 29-Apr-2013 14:35:33 EDT by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)