[Locke, 1957]
Jack Locke in Green Bank, 1957 (Photo courtesy DRAO)



NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with Jack L. Locke
At Cambridge
17 August 1976
Interview time: 30 minutes
Transcribed by Ellen N. Bouton

Note: Note: The interview listed below was conducted as part of Sullivan's research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and was transcribed for the NRAO Archives, then reviewed and edited/corrected by Ellen N. Bouton in 2016. Any notes of correction or clarification added in the reviewing/editing process have been included in brackets; places where we are uncertain about what was said are indicated with parentheses and a question mark, e.g. (?) or (possible text?). Although we have minimized it as best we can, there was a great deal of background noise in the location where this interview was conducted, making some of the interview, especially the first part, tape 55B, difficult to understand. Sullivan's notes about each interview are available on Sullivan's interviewee Web page. During processing, full names of institutions and people were added in brackets when they first appear. We are grateful for the 2011 Herbert C. Pollock Award from Dudley Observatory which funded digitization of Sullivan's original cassette tapes.

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.

Click start to listen to the audio of tape 55B of the 1976 interview.

Begin tape 55B

Sullivan

This is talking with Jack Locke on 17th August 1976 at Cambridge. Now can you tell me just a bit about what your scientific background was before you got into radio astronomy?

Locke

Yes, I was trained as a physicist and got my doctor’s degree in [?] spectroscopy doing some infrared work, and then upon graduation in 1949 I went to Dominion Observatory in Ottawa to undertake their solar program which had been held in abeyance during the War and was starting up again -

Sullivan

This was optical solar work?

Locke

This was optical solar work, yeah. And I did some survey solar flare work with a [?] filter [?] instrument and some infrared spectroscopy with a large grating instrument which I constructed there.

Sullivan

So you were instrumentally inclined in terms of building instruments -

Locke

Yes. And I had broken my education during the War and been in the Canadian Navy from 1942 to 1945, and working mostly as an instructor in electronics with specialization in sonar, which we called ASDIC in those days.

Sullivan

What did that stand for?

Locke

Anti-Submarine Detection Agency. I should say Anti-Submarine Detection Investigating Committee, which was the name of a committee which had been set up by the Royal Navy to examine the problem, and then the equipment which they developed just took [?]. But now it's all called sonar, which was the American term. The head of the Observatory, Dominion Observatory, in those days was Dr. Fields, C.S. Fields, he had the title of Dominion Astronomer, which has since lapsed, there is no longer a Dominion Astronomer. He had spent most of his career at the Victoria Observatory, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, and that Observatory had traditionally been involved in galactic studies, studies of galactic rotation, densities, and so on. And both he and I became interested, I think at the same time, in getting the Dominion Observatory involved in radio astronomy. And at that time the Covington line work was just expanding -

Sullivan

Now what time are you talking about?

Locke

This was in the early 1950s, 1953 or 4.

Sullivan

Right. The Dutch were just beginning their surveys.

Locke

And it looked as if this would (???) would be complimentary to the work which being done over in Victoria, and that was the basis on which we approached the Canadian government for money to build an observatory. At that time, the National Research Council, which was another agency of the government, was involved in radio astronomy. As you know, Arthur Covington, right after the War, started solar work within the National Research Council. It was an outgrowth of the work that Council had been doing during the War in radar. He turned that around into what was his hobby at that time, astronomy. And the National Research Council had ideas of expanding their interest into other areas of radio astronomy other than solar, and -

Sullivan

That was the only thing going, was Covington's group, at that time?

Locke

Yes, that's right. Completely solar.

Sullivan

Who were the people who were interested in expanding at NRC.

Locke

Well, mostly, I think, Norm Broten. Norm Broten and Wilf Medd, who were working with Covington at the time, wanted to expand. And Covington himself wanted to stay strictly in solar work. And the man who actually was pushing for a large telescope, a general purpose radio telescope, at the National Research Council, was Don McKinley, who later became vice-president of the National Research Council and has since retired.

Sullivan

He was, did a lot of meteor radar work, the same fellow?

Locke

Yes, that's the man. McKinley and Millman did a lot of the radar work.

Sullivan

And he was pushing, you say, however, for some radio astronomy.

Locke

Yes, that's right.

Sullivan

And the basis of this, for all of this, was simply looking around at what the English and the Australians were doing and saying -

Locke

Yes, it's a new field, you know, and we should be in it if we’re going to do up-to-the-minute astronomy. So that sort of by accident there were two government groups in Canada involved in radio astronomy. Dominion Observatory, which was in a government department, the Dominion Observatory had always been involved in optical astronomy and it seemed logical to expand into the radio end of things, and the National Research Council approached it mainly from an engineering point of view. They were involved in electrical engineering, electronic engineering, and had gotten into solar radio astronomy and wanted to expand into more general radio astronomy. And the two proposals really went before the government, before the (?) Board of our government at the same time.

Sullivan

And when was this?

Locke

This was, oh, I'd have to check the date, but it would be about 1955.

Sullivan

And what were the proposals for?

Locke

Well, our proposal was very specific. It was to build a 25 meter telescope with a hydrogen line (?) spectrometer and to do, at least initially, the first projects would be hydrogen line observations. Their approach, the National Research Council's approach, was to build a large parabolic telescope, they hadn't settled on the size, I don't think, at that time, but to do more general purpose continuum observations of radio sources. And Dr. Stacy, who was President of the National Research Council at that time, withdrew his proposal to the government in favor of ours, which was a bit surprising, but was typical of the man. He thought that our proposal, that we knew what we were going to do, whereas they were just expanding. He withdrew their proposal in favor of ours. Well, as things turned out, subsequently the National Research Council went forward again with the proposal to build a large telescope, whereas in 1955 they were asking for something in the order of a 25-meter telescope, by the time they went forward the second time with their proposal, they were going for a 46-meter telescope, so they ended up, we got started first, but they ended up with the larger telescope.

Sullivan

So this was the Algonquin telescope. And when did they put in the proposal for that Algonquin one?

Locke

That was in the early 1960s, about '62, I believe, and it was completed in 1967.

Sullivan

And the people to talk to about that one would be Broten and Medd again?

Locke

Yes. Although, now my career has switched, too. I left the Dominion Observatory to join the National Research Council when the Algonquin telescope was nearing completion. And now subsequently all the astronomy in the Canadian government is within the National Research Council combined.

Sullivan

I see. So going back to 1954, '55, you were given your grant?

Locke

Yes.

Sullivan

And how much was this, roughly?

Locke

Well, the telescope itself was about a quarter of a million dollars, and the installation was a quarter of a million dollars, and we did a site survey in 1957 looking at a number of possible sites. We shifted the search to mountainous regions of the country, and this meant particularly British Columbia.

Sullivan

For protection from -

Locke

Yes, for protection. And we found what I think is still one of the best sites in the world near Penticton, White Lakes, which is a flat, relatively flat area, about a mile square, almost uniformly surrounded by mountains, so it’s a well-protected site.

Sullivan

What happened say two years in, just finagling with the government to actually get the money?

Locke

Yes, it takes some time of course to get money approved, and it takes time to build the telescope and to draw up the plans for the observatory site itself.

Sullivan

But it was all pretty straightforward, there were no great technical or political problems -

Locke

No, very true. That was a time when it was relatively easy to get money, and when the governments didn't question as closely as they do now how you were going to spend it. But we bought a Kennedy telescope, which was designed after the one for Harvard, which was almost an off-the-shelf item, we didn’t have to do any design work ourselves. And we bought the first receiver also (?) and we had to build up the staff from nothing at that time.

Sullivan

So you were in charge of this whole thing, is that right?

Locke

Yes. I guess partly because I had contributed to the initial proposal, and (?) had the job of seeing it through. But I was one of the few people in the Dominion Observatory with any electronic experience at all, that came during the War. So I was, at first I was in charge of the Observatory. And then, of course, we found that there were several Canadians who were studying abroad in radio astronomy, Carmen Costain, was one, studying at Cambridge. And John Galt, who was a physicist and working in industry at that time wanted to make a change, and we knew of his interest in electronics. (And while?) the observatory was building he spent a year and a half at Jodrell. So that was the initial group.

Sullivan

So the site survey was '57, and the telescope was completed when?

Locke

It was officially opened in 1960, June 20th, 1960.

Sullivan

And so this first group started in '60, really.

Locke

Yes.

Sullivan

Costain, Galt -

Locke

And Rob Roger, who, strangely enough, was born in Penticton, where we completed the Observatory, although we didn't know at that time. He was in Jodrell getting a PhD in radio astronomy.

Sullivan

Now was he there right in the beginning, in 1960? I didn't realize he went back -

Locke

Well, he joined us very soon after. He wasn't there in June 1960. And then the other member, scientific member of the staff, was Ed Argyle, who had helped me with the site survey. He had not worked as a radio astronomer, but rather as a radio amateur, and ended up working at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory as an optical astronomer, but his interests were mainly in radio also. He was asked to join the group. And I guess it was a typical situation in that it was much easier to get money for the capital investment for the telescope and buildings than it was to get positions to hire staff. So we had to take some people and retrain them, I guess you’d say, to do the radio astronomy.

Sullivan

Well, what was your first scientific program?

Locke

Our first one was hydrogen line work. We did a survey of the anticenter region and the detailed study of the hydrogen distribution in IC 443, which was a supernova remnant. Those were the first two program that we did. And very soon after we got underway, Carmen Costain, who had been doing low frequency radio astronomy at Cambridge, wanted to do low frequency astronomy in Canada, and so we started construction of the 22 MHz array.

Sullivan

Right. I talked to Carmen and he told me quite a bit about that.

Locke

And it was a logical thing to do in that site, and it worked out very well. And subsequently, this you probably know, there was a 10 MHz array that was useful only at sunspot minimum.

Sullivan

Now this must have drained away, though, from the work on the dish. Your staff didn't increase that much, and yet you had this whole low frequency project.

Locke

No, for many years we were understaffed, not only the scientific end, but the technical end as well. But everybody on the staff had a soldering iron.

Sullivan

Right. But nevertheless, that was my point. If you're understaffed and you have this new instrument, a low frequency instrument, the dish might have been as (?) as well as what it might have been otherwise.

Locke

Well, I guess that's true. But most of the effort in the low frequency work is in the design of the telescope. The observing is essentially automatic except for changing the phasing on a daily basis. Then the observations are quite slow...

End Tape 55B

Click start to listen to the audio of tape 56A of the 1976 interview.

Begin Tape 56A

Sullivan

This is continuing with Jack Locke on 17th August '76. So you were saying that you took quite a while to reduce all this data -

Locke

Yes. But the staff at Penticton has never really been large enough for the amount of hardware we have and that just, I think, made the rate of contributions slower I'd wish or should have been.

Sullivan

You were the first Director at Penticton also?

Locke

Yes.

Sullivan

Were you personally involved in some of the scientific projects?

Locke

Oh, yes.

Sullivan

Which ones?

Locke

Well the ones that I just mentioned. I was not supposed to be the officer in charge of the Observatory, but when the time came to appoint someone to be officer in charge the Deputy Administrator of the Department said that we can't send a new employee out in the field and expect them to handle it -

Sullivan

Take it over -

Locke

Yeah. So that I was supposed to go out there for the first two years as officer in charge and then come back to Ottawa. The Observatory would still be under me administratively, but I wouldn't be here and have anything to do with the scientific program. Well, the two years stretched into three. I reluctantly came back to Ottawa, but I really enjoyed my time at the Observatory. It was far enough from headquarters, and long distance telephone calls weren't as common as they are now, and it was a very nice atmosphere.

Sullivan

And did John Galt take over then?

Locke

Yes. It was always the intention that he would take over.

Sullivan

And that was when, when you came back?

Locke

That was in 1962. I had been there a year before the official opening of the Observatory, 1959 to ‘62.

Sullivan

What would you say have been the main contributions, especially those before 1965 or so, but (?) afterwards, of the DRAO?

Locke

Well. I think the low frequency work was probably the unique part of the work that had been done out there, and it's been rather slow to get to the publishing stage, but it's original (?) contribution, which is Carm Costain, Rob Rodger, there have been other post-doc fellows and so on, but they are the main ones. And I think the other main piece of work that has been the long baseline interferometer. This was a very strong point at the time. There was some talk in Canada that really, we didn't need two radio observatories, back in 1967 and 1968, and perhaps Penticton should be closed down.

Sullivan

Referring to Algonquin coming in?

Locke

Yes, yes. And we would never have been able to develop the long baseline interferometry ourselves in Canada if we hadn't had two observatories, essentially one on one coast and one on the other.

Sullivan

Right.

Locke

So the Penticton observatory contributed lots to that, John Galt was (?)

Sullivan

Yes, he's told me about that. So you would say, then, that the 25 meter dish in Penticton, its main contribution was nothing like what you intended when you -

Locke

No, no, I don't think so. It was a large telescope when we started to build it, and that was an era when a bigger telescope, bigger radio telescope, was being commissioned every six months. And so it very quickly became obsolete for the sort of work it was designed to do. It's still a useful instrument for survey work. There's much demand for -

Sullivan

Or monitoring -

Locke

For monitoring pulsars and that sort of thing.

Sullivan

Now, you mentioned earlier that you came back to Ottawa and then you got involved with the Algonquin. Could you tell me just about the beginnings, the idea of Algonquin, why on the east coast, and so forth?

Locke

Well, it stemmed, of course, from Arthur Covington's work. His observatory was at Goth Hill, which was just immediately south of Ottawa. And right on an extension of the runway at the Ottawa airport, the Ottawa international airport, and so the interference levels were getting very high. He actually started looking for another site farther away at about the same time that the proposal for a large dish for the National Research Council -

Sullivan

And what year would this be?

Locke

This would be 1957, yes, 1957.

Sullivan

Oh, '57! I see - that was early.

Locke

Yes. You see they had their proposal in for a large telescope, although they hadn't given up the idea of getting one. So that in looking for a new site for Covington's solar work they were also looking for a site for a considerable, for a large telescope.

Sullivan

I see. Now was the proposal in '57 more specific than the first one that you talked about?

Locke

Well, not in '57, but by 1960 it was -

Sullivan

And they were wanting what?

Locke

They were wanting a 150 foot telescope and a site suitable for it. And as it turned out, the design was essentially the same design as for the Parkes Telescope, although the tolerances were considerably higher.

Sullivan

I still don't see why on the east coast. Seems like it would be advantageous to get out in the desert.

Locke

Oh, I see. Well the reason for putting it on the east coast was, well, that's the center of population, and it was to be a national facility, used by the universities, so the thought at that time was to find a site which was both quiet free, but close to the universities at the same time.

Sullivan

Oh, I see. That's similar to NRAO, why NRAO is on the east coast.

Locke

Yes, that's right.

Sullivan

But then DRAO and DAO are not designed in that respect?

Locke

No, they were not designed to be facilities.

Sullivan

I see.

Locke

They have turned out to be that, the instruments are used by universities as well, but they weren't established as facilities. Whereas the Algonquin Radio Observatory was established as a facility and that was a strong argument that was used to get the funds to build it.

Sullivan

I see. When was Algonquin actually picked. Now you say that around the late '50s you began looking for a site.

Locke

Yes. Actually, the same equipment which I used for the site search in British Columbia was used later on in the year by Norm Broten and some others at the Council to find the site for ARO.

Sullivan

I see. And did Covington move up there before the big dish was up there?

Locke

Oh, yes. He started, and for many years he operated both at Goth Hill and at Algonquin.

Sullivan

He must have told me this, actually.

Locke

He's very fussy about calibration, he didn't want to close down the observatory until -

Sullivan

That overlap -

Locke

Long overlap, right.

Sullivan

So just quickly, I guess it was still several years before, it was mainly just a matter of trying to get the money for the big telescope.

Locke

Yes, for many, several years at least, it was just a solar observing station. And then as Art Covington probably told you, he launched into an array, solar array, a 32 dish array. And it was built at the same time as the 150 foot.

Sullivan

And when was this, now?

Locke

This was in the middle 1960s. Well, from 1960 to 1965.

Sullivan

And the telescope came into operation when?

Locke

1967. 1966, I guess, 1966.

Sullivan

Just trying to compare this to the 140 foot, which was '66 or '67. [Note added in 2016: The NRAO 140 foot was dedicated in October 1965.] There must have been a little bit of a race going on here in some respects.

Locke

Yes, there was.

Sullivan

Although the 140 foot should have won by several years.

Locke

Yes, it was a long -

Sullivan

Were there any such troubles with the Algonquin dish?

Locke

No, no, there weren't. Partly, I guess, because the problems had been solved at Parkes.

Sullivan

Did you have the same optical conversion system?

Locke

Yes.

Sullivan

I didn't realize that. Do you still?

Locke

Yes, it's still an integral part of the system. Although it's computerized now. But it's still the coordinate conversion.

Sullivan

And what was the originally designed shortest wavelength?

Locke

It was designed for 3 cm. It's been used down to 1 cm, down to 8 millimeters, but the efficiency is not -

Sullivan

But there's been no improvement of the surface since it was built?

Locke

No.

Sullivan

Oh, I see. That was just pushing it a bit further. Well, have I missed something in terms of your scientific work up until the mid-'60s?

Locke

No, I don't think so.

Sullivan

Sounds like you were mainly working so that others can make their scientific contributions.

Locke

I guess that's partly so. At least I flitted around a bit. Radio astronomy has been my main interest, I guess, since I became involved in it. And it was partly for that reason that I left the Dominion Observatory and went to the Council. After I left Penticton and returned to Ottawa I felt I'd missed the (?) of making observations. So rather than try to go back out there where John Galt was in charge, I decided I'd join the group at the Council and try to get in try to get in on some of the early observing there. Launched, helped to launch anyway, the variable source program there, one of the things -

Sullivan

Right. That's one of the many things Algonquin is known for, of course. Was from the beginning one of the main programs it was designed for?

Locke

Well, no. When it was designed, sources weren't known to vary. By the time it was finished, it was -

Sullivan

Yes, '65 or '6 they were just discovered, right.

Locke

So it would seem like a useful thing to do. Although that program lasted a lot longer than intended.

Sullivan

So it was just designed as a general purpose instrument, like you say, for use for universities from all over the country -

Locke

Yes. It was the only type of instrument that was considered, a parabolic dish, because it's the type of instrument on which you can do short programs, as a facility for use by university astronomers, whereas an array, an interferometer -

Sullivan

Very specialized, yes.

Locke

Well, I guess that's all.

Sullivan

OK, thank you very much.

End tape 56A


Modified on Tuesday, 05-Jul-2016 13:34:42 EDT by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)