[T. Kochu Menon, 1961]
Menon, 1961 (Photo courtesy of NRAO/AUI/NSF)



NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with T. Kochu Menon
At NRAO, Charlottesville, Virginia
March 19, 1974
Interview Time: 41minutes
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 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

T. Kochu Menon on 19 March Ď74 in Charlottesville. So you were in the very earliest part of the group that Bok supervised?

Menon

No, actually I was initially in the Physics Department.

Sullivan

I see.

Menon

For one year. I took my masters and then that summer I went to the Astronomy Department. Fred Whipple was the chairman. And I had been always interested in astronomy and particularly radio astronomy. It was the very last years I stayed in India. I was interested in radio astronomy and had some correspondence with radio astronomers of that period.

Sullivan

There was no radio astronomy research in India?

Menon

No, no, not at that time. It was at that time just before I left, a year before I left, [E. G.] Taffy Bowen from Australia, had visited India for some scientific meeting and he gave a few lectures on radio astronomy as it existed at that time.

Sullivan

I see.

Menon

Which was mostly solar radio astronomy.

Sullivan

And that got you interested?

Menon

Yeah, it got me interested. So at just about the same time I had applied to Harvard and also I got a fellowship to go to Australia to do radio astronomy work. I mean Taffy Bowen arranged it but since I got the fellowship also at Harvard, I decided to come there. But I got the fellowship at Harvard to do applied physics or physics. At the first opportunity I got, I talked to Fred Whipple and since Whipple found out I was interested also in radio astronomy he asked me to talk to Bart Bok. I went and talked to him and, of course, he was his usual, very enthusiastic self. He said, yes, there were opportunities to do radio astronomy. It was just getting started.

Sullivan

When was this now?

Menon

It was in the í53 summer. Already the project had started. There were telescopes, the first, I mean the 24ft, had been erected even though it was not in operation.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

And the receiver was just being completed. And so I was taken to Agassiz station by one of the technicians at that time. And I met [David S.] Heeschen and [A. Edward] Lilley who were the only two...

Sullivan

I see.

Menon

They were the only two in the project but they were doing more or less technical things. Very, very technical in the sense of honing the gears and things like that. So because, because essentially it was a local project and there wasnít much of any financial support.

Sullivan

A dish itself must have been bought somewhere?

Menon

Yes, well no. At that time when they first wanted to build the dish, I understand that they looked around and there was no one really interested in building dishes, particularly when they heard it was to be equatorially mounted. They ran out of people. They were just not used to that.

Sullivan

Right, right.

Menon

But there was one engineer who used to work for a company called D.S. Kennedy and Bob Grenzback was the engineer. He designed the equatorial mount on his own. I mean on a personal basis he designed; and Kennedy, of course, supplied some of the components for the dish. And it was a very simple minded system. The drive system was a rack and pinion arrangement.

Sullivan

And so it actually was put together right there by the company?

Menon

No, it was not by the company. [Harold "Doc" Irving] Ewen was the co-director of the radio astronomy project and Tom [Thomas A.] Matthews was also there but he was not as active. He was just starting to get interested. He was doing some optical work. He was just getting interested. And so, I joined in í53 as a graduate student and of course the first year as a graduate student, you do mostly the coursework so I didnít really have very much to do with the radio astronomy group except in terms of reading.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

But in í54 summer, I moved to Agassiz station. So by that time the radio receiver had started working and Lilley and Heeschen, they had started observing. The observing programs had started and I got involved a little bit with the electronics there mostly to learn. You know the receiver had been built. The only people who knew anything about it were the people who built it. So for the other people to use it later on, I had to make up a manual.

Sullivan

This was Ewenís receiver?

Menon

Yes, Ewen designed it. It was a very clever receiver but it was not a very practical one for other people to use until they learned how to use it.

Sullivan

Did it have innovations?

Menon

Yes, the basic innovation was, I think, it still is, it was the DC comparison system.

Sullivan

Oh yes, I remember a paper on that now.

Menon

The idea of the DC comparison system was published by a physicist at Harvard, one Walter [Selouw?]. He was a nuclear physicist and heís at University of Pennsylvania now. He got the idea in connection with something else, I suppose.

Sullivan

I see.

Menon

But he published it and Ewen, of course, was at the physics department at that time as a graduate student of that period. So he adapted it to the line receiver and it was really, it was a scanning receiver. And one major innovation for radio, line receiver system at that time was it had variable bandwidths.

Sullivan

I see.

Menon

And you could use 5 kc, 15 kc, or 35 kc.

Sullivan

What kind of filter was it then?

Menon

Well, these were very ordinary RC filters

Sullivan

Oh, oh you were switching between filters. There wasnít...

Menon

No, it was a single filter. You scan the local oscillator. It took one hour to get a profile.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

You scanned the local oscillator with a wideband, 5 MHz one band and a narrowband, switching between the two and the difference was recorded.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

Which was, so it took, it was one filter.

Sullivan

How did you get variable resolutions?

Menon

Well, that was...

Sullivan

According to the integration time, you mean?

Menon

No, that one was the fixed, was the 5 MHz bandwidth, which is essentially the IF bandwidth, the total bandwidth. The other one could be either the 5 kc filter or a 15 kc filter or a 35 kc filter. And see at that time, the only other people doing any hydrogen line work was the Dutch.

Sullivan

The Dutch.

Menon

The Dutch and they were using 35 kc. And they thought there is no need, theoretically, no reason for using a 5 kc and they made fun of Ewen as a matter of fact. You will find there was a conference on radio astronomy funded by DTM [Department of Terrestrial Magnetism]. I think it was in í54.

Sullivan

Right, yes. I know what you mean.

Menon

In that there was an exchange where when Ewen described the receiver and said that he was going to use 5 kc filter, [Hendrik Christoffel] van de Hulst made fun of him, saying that we that know from optical observations and the random velocities of interstellar clouds so there is no need to go to 5 kc and, of course, 5 kc was very important.

Sullivan

And now the original discovery of the hydrogen line with Ewenís receiver, or an early receiver, that was not a DC comparison, was it?

Menon

No, actually that was a very simple-minded radiometer.

Sullivan

So something you slapped together?

Menon

Yes, yes. That was not a DC comparison system.

Sullivan

What was the first, well was the atmosphere of the group at this time? I mean was it sort of an exciting time or?

Menon

Yes, because whatever was being observed was essentially new. And there was not that much exchange of information with the Dutch at that time so you didnít really know what they were doing other than the fact that they were doing the large scale surveys. So anything which was observed was new and of course since the people there had more optical background, particularly Bart and the students too, Heeschen and Lilley and Tom Matthews and others, had optical background. The problems they decided that in a situation like the Agassiz station line with the students having to do their thesis, you canít undertake long range surveys like the Dutch. So their problems had to be restricted to more specific problems.

Sullivan

Of course, the Dutch do it with the students too. They just take ten years to get their degree.

Menon

Yeah, well it was a different system.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

The optical background of the students sort of controlled the type of problems that we were going to do. Heeschenís discovery was something very new and unexpected. I mean he observed that a dark self-absorbing cloud was the galactic center.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

And Lilleyís work was essentially was an outgrowth of the interest at that time because Spitzer [Lyman Strong Spitzer, Jr.] had published his series of papers on the temperature of the interstellar medium, HI and HII region, the difference in temperatures and the cooling, heating mechanism and all that. So there was a lot of interest as to what the Dutch would do to interstellar medium, and so Bok, of course, had a lot of experience in star counts and he had done a lot of stellar work on the distribution of absorbing clouds.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

So, these two synthesized together. Lilleyís thesis was on the gas to dust ratio.

Sullivan

Right. Had Bok worked on galactic structure at that time?

Menon

Yes, he had published during the late, in the Ď40s and very early Ď50s. He had published a lot of galactic structure papers.

Sullivan

Why didnít he get some projects going along that line?

Menon

Well, you see the galactic structure in the sense of spiral structure was essentially confirmed in 1951.

Sullivan

Right, optically?

Menon

Optically. It was known that the Dutch were doing a large scale survey. And they had a bigger dish. So there was no incentive to do any large scale survey in that sense.

Sullivan

I see. So you left that to them essentially?

Menon

Yes, in that sense.

Sullivan

That special region.

Menon

Yes as I said, it was the fact that by the time that the telescope got into operation both Heeschen and Lilley had been there for approximately three years as graduate students, and they were interested in finishing up their thesis. So that to some extent dictated the type of programs undertaken also.

Sullivan

So what did you get involved in?

Menon

Well, one day Bok was writing up the proposal to NSF [the National Science Foundation]. NSF has just started giving out small amounts of money to astronomy at that time. And he was writing up the proposal for a grant for the next year so he called me one day, this was in my second year, early in my second year. He called me and said that you should start thinking about your thesis and write out the program so that I can include it in the NSF proposal. So at that time I had written a paper on expanding associations. At that time it was a big thing in optical astronomy and as well as the concept of stellar associations by [Viktor A.] Ambartsumian, was put forward in í52, í53, í54. During that period the instability of stellar associations and the ONB associations, a new concept, it was introduced at that time.

Sullivan

You mean previous to that all stellar clusters were thought to be bound?

Menon

Yes and the concept that the ONB associations have a shorter time scale and are unstable phenomena. That was a concept introduced by Ambartsumian and so Blaw and Morgan had measured these proper motions and shown in some cases published at that time that some of the stellar associations were expanding.

Sullivan

Right.

Menon

I think they had shown in Lacerta and Aurigae that some of the associations were shown to be expanding. Perseus. So I was, I had written a paper on these concepts at that time because these became available in formal translation of the Russian literature which was still not generally available. So I had surveyed the literature and written my paper.

Sullivan

Was it known at that time how young O stars are?

Menon

Yes, theoretical, Ambartsumian had showed that the ages of the associations could not be more than a few million years.

Sullivan

No, I mean from the O star itself, the stellar evolution?

Menon

Yes, that I think was known but the associations, as a group, are the end objects he had shown. And these optical measurements, proper motion measurements, also indicated expansion on the order of a few million years. So I thought it would be very interesting to see whether, along with the expanding stars, whether the gas in these regions also was involved in the expansion phenomenon. And looking at the various associations which had been suggested, the one which would be the most interesting to study, because of less complications from the galactic background and the 21 cm radiation, was the Orion association. Itís off the plane, at that latitude itís less complex and so I decided that I would look at Orion, the 21 cm distribution of the Orion distribution.

Sullivan

Right. So when did you start observations?

Menon

I started observations in í55 and I actually finished the observations, it was at the rate of some hundred different profiles obtained and I finished observing fairly rapidly because there was not, at the time I started observing, the only other person who was also observing for thesis was Tom Matthews. It was a little later many others came into the picture. So I finished observing before the end of í55. Actually, I actually completed the thesis writing and all that in í55 itself but Bok said to wait, there is no great hurry in submitting the thesis. I submitted in í56 because I was staying in Agassiz Station at that time and we had only one technician and Heeschen and Lilley both, when they finished their thesis in í55, they left. And I was, so reduced manpower, I was sort of the technician.

Sullivan

Cheap labor.

Menon

Cheap labor and there were a number of new graduate students by that time: Drake [Frank D. Drake], Campbell Wade was, of course, there and Campbell Wade had, earlier, had an important part in starting the radio astronomy program.

Sullivan

Yes, I want to talk to him. I havenít talked to him. What do you see as the main result of your thesis work?

Menon

I think I showed definitely that in the regions of the stellar associations, particularly in the Orion case, the gas motion have been very much influenced by the process of star formation. And it was, I interpreted that, the source as a rather expanding ring or expanding sphere of gas and by in large it is still true, even though it is more complex. The motions are probably more complex that this simple minded affair but there is a very definite effect on the motions, the neighborhood, in the neutral gas because of the formation of the association. And I think I also showed, at that time one of the theories which was prevalent was that the associations were formed in the HII region surrounding an initial HII region. I mean, [Jan Hendrik] Oort put forward the idea if an O star formed and an HII region is formed surrounding it, there is a compressed neutral region formed in the boundary. An association is formed within that and I tried to show from my results that this is not necessarily the sequence in associations because here there was an expanding cloud of gas, a neutral gas, outside the association.

Sullivan

Right. Let me ask about the relationship between this radio astronomy group and the Harvard Department of Astronomy. Were you looked upon as sort of a bunch of wild ones or strange ones anyway?

Menon

Well, I think it varied greatly, you see, students of that period at the Harvard Astronomy Department, they were a very homogenous group in the sense that there was a tremendous amount of camaraderie and we were there nights, late at nights, independent of whether you were in radio astronomy project or in other projects. Students formed a homogenous whole and I think the students of that period got a much wider background of learning because of this interaction. Independent of what field they were in, there was some overlap in solar field, particularly the married ones of that period. They interacted a great deal and so no distinction was made as well as the students were concerned. But of course the department head, a lot of internal politics which the students didnít really get involved in. We were more or less left out of it but we could see it only at a distance. They were indirect effects on the students because you didnít want to get any of the faculty mad at you because you are in one project and because some of the higher ups were...

Sullivan

Youíre implying that some of the faculty didnít think that it was worth the money or?

Menon

No, I donít think so. I think there was one group of faculty that, basically there were three groups, research groups in the Harvard department at that time. The solar such group, then there was...

Sullivan

These were lead by? [Donald H.] Menzel?

Menon

Menzel. Then there is the meteor comet sort of problems, solar system type of problems led by Whipple. Then there is the theoretical group, the theoretical group, of the mostly younger people at that time, Max Krook and like that there were some of the younger people. And of course, there was radio astronomy group. There wasnít any active optical group and Mrs. [Cecilia Payne] Gaposchkin was there but she had just her own personal project. But there was no very large stellar astronomy group.

Sullivan

So how did they view you? Was it legitimate astronomy that you were doing?

Menon

Yes, I mean, you see we interacted with the younger theoretical group very well. I mean, I for example, my thesis, I was very happy to find that it was read by most members of the faculty independent of what field they were in. I know Whipple read cover to cover and Menzel read cover to cover. I know the theoreticians read cover to cover and asked questions. And so, I donít think there was, no it was considered legitimate but with a lot of the future of radio astronomy, there were conflicting views. I mean I donít think that all of them realized that radio astronomy would bring in such a tremendous wealth of information. Bok probably told you about the letter he had from Walter Baade in which Baade told Bok, "Bart, at this age, you are entering into this field. Whatever there is to be done in radio astronomy has been done by the Dutch." And I have a copy of that letter.

Sullivan

Oh, you do? So what did you do after you got your degree?

Menon

Well when I finished my degree just about that time, AUI [Associated Universities, Inc.] started thinking in actually in 1955 AUI first started thinking, I mean the Harvard group first started thinking of a larger radio telescope. And it was realized that there was simply the university might not be able to afford an instrument and this is something bigger than a 60ft., which Harvard had already had money for in í55. So they had gotten some people from MIT , Jerry [Jerome] Wiesner, Ed [Edward Mills] Purcell was there. They had a meeting to discuss a possible national observatory. They didnít think in terms of a national observatory but a lot of the conversation, the AUI was already in existence at that time. And anyway to make a long story short, Heeschen, who was at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, he left there and he came to Harvard in í55. He left in í54 and came back in í55 as an Agassiz radio astronomer. And then in í56 he resigned to join AUI so I took over Heeschenís position as the Agassiz radio astronomer, as a radio astronomer in í56. And in í57, Bart Bok left for Australia so I became the director of the radio astronomy project but I stayed for another year but there were lots personal reasons. At that time, the radio astronomy project at Harvard did not have the type of support which would have been necessary. That is, radio astronomy was considered by in large a purely technical project. The astronomy part was not well recognized by other members of the faculty. So when I asked for greater technical support saying that I personally am not an electronic engineer, I personally cannot keep with the advances in electronics to build good instrumentation, that you need a good engineer. There were no engineers here at that time, I was doing everything.

Sullivan

Ewen had left?

Menon

Oh, Ewen was nominally there but he never spent any time on the project. I mean he was nominally there to give advice if you asked for it but as far as running the project was concerned, he was never there, I mean he had his own major business activity. So that was, well Menzel and Whipple did not understand that you need fairly sophisticated instrumentation and for that you need engineering staff. And I asked for the engineering staff, saying that you need one or two positions, an engineer and a technician like that and that they were not willing to give and Tommy [Thomas] Gold had joined after Bok left. Tommy Gold has even less of an appreciation of what type of expertise is needed to build and run an observatory.

Sullivan

He was in the astronomy department?

Menon

He was in astronomy department. I was put in a very peculiar situation of as far as NSF was concerned I was the director of radio astronomy project. Money came in my name but, since I was not a member of the observatory council, Tommy Gold was to represent the interest of the radio astronomy group in the council and since we didnít agree on basic policies. I had the responsibility but not the authority and he had the authority but not the responsibility. So I decided it was not a very convenient situation so I resigned.

Sullivan

Did Bok, what were his motives for leaving? Just decided that was enough radio astronomy?

Menon

No, no, I think it was to do with much deeper problems in the department. When he came back from Australia, I mean South Africa in 1951 after spending a year on sabbatical there, he realized that the optical astronomy, or stellar galactic astronomy, was not getting the type of support from the general observatory council as he wanted it. There were, I canít really say what the personal relationship of the members of the council, but that had a lot to do with it.

Sullivan

But he stayed for five or six years? I mean he was still willing to...?

Menon

Yes, he tried his very best.

Sullivan

He finally just gave up?

Menon

Yeah, I think he gave up because it was not a very [smoked situation?]. You can put up a brave front only so long and he, of course, as an optical astronomer, he had a great love for the Southern hemisphere and when the directorship of the major observatory of the South was offered, he thought it was a great opportunity. His first love was the Southern hemisphere.

Sullivan

And optical astronomy.

Menon

Optical astronomy and he had already a good working relationship with Joe [Joseph L.] Pawsey at CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization].

Sullivan

So he was still thinking of keeping working with radio astronomy?

Menon

Oh, yes.

Sullivan

Radio astronomy.

Menon

Yes, he wanted that relationship. As a matter of fact, several of the radio astronomers at CSIRO now they did their thesis at Australia National University. John Whiteoak, Dave Matthewson...

Sullivan

Ron Ekers.

Menon

Ron Ekers, I mean later on, Ron Ekers.

Sullivan

He comes later.

Menon

But several of them during the time he was there, they did their work on Stromlo [Mount Stromlo Observatory].

Sullivan

So where did you go after Harvard?

Menon

After Harvard, I was for a short time at the University of Pennsylvania because they thought they would be interested in starting a radio astronomy program or at least having a close cooperation with Green Bank when it got started. But Green Bank did not have any students then yet, first instrument came only in í59. So I did come a few times from Pennsylvania to Green Bank but I finally decided being at Green Bank was much preferable to Philadelphia. I did not like the city at that time so I moved to Green Bank.

Sullivan

In í59?

Menon

í59.

Sullivan

And then what did you do there?

Menon

Well, í59 once I moved to Green Bank the only instrument which was in existence at that time was the 85 foot, the first 85. I got interested in HII regions because the 3.75 cm receiver with that 3 minute of arc resolution made it possible to look at HII regions. I thought a density distribution, electron density distribution in HII regions would be a rather important thing because there were many, many unknown things of HII regions at that time.

Sullivan

There still are.

Menon

There still are. So I decided to work on a number of HII regions, particularly the extreme cases. The highly condensed one, as well as the ones with very low central condensation as the Orion nebula and the Rossete. That kept me for quite a few years until the 300 foot came along.

Sullivan

What was it like in those early days at Green Bank? What was the atmosphere?

Menon

Well, the atmosphere there was, again, there were lots of growing pains because it was not; there was no direction. The authority all stayed in New York, the AUI office, and there was no local director until Heeschen being the senior most person, he was in a very difficult position because he had more or less the responsibility to get any science out of the place but all the major decisions were being made by people far away whom he really did not know too well personally. They were not astronomers because the initial AUI board of trustees did not have any astronomers. And it was a rather difficult period in that sense.

Sullivan

And he wasnít officially a director, is that right?

Menon

No, he was not a director. He was an astronomer like others except for the fact that he was the first one to go there so it was a very ambiguous situation. But those who were there, they worked together very closely but since there was only one instrument until í63, I guess, until the 300ft came along, there was the one instrument. Most of the work had to be done. And the receivers again; of course, there were no commercial receivers and the ones which were supplied by commercial firms were not very reliable and there were extreme difficulties in getting good electronic staff. Hein Hvatum joined about the same time. He was the first one and it was, the instrument problems, were mostly of instrumentation and morale, in that sense. The 140 foot, even though the hole had been dug many years earlier, it was a very dispiriting affair. There was very little progress and again decisions were being made on the structure with very little consultation with the scientific staff.

Sullivan

What about the relationship between NRAO and the university radio astronomers? Iíve heard that there...

Menon

Well there was quite a bit of friction in the early days because that was the period when many university astronomy, university radio astronomy groups, were getting funded fairly substantially compared to NRAO. And they didnít accept the idea that they should give up their programs in favor of the national one set up. I mean the concept of a national observatory just did not exist, or a national center for anything, did not exist. And the idea from the physicists like Brookhaven [Brookhaven National Laboratory], that had not leaked into astronomy groups yet.

Sullivan

Thatís what AUI...?

Menon

AUI in principle did not see any difficulty in operating a national facility. They had university groups coming in using their facilities but astronomers had not done that. Particularly, radio astronomy groups were being funded fairly substantially in those days, as substantially as NRAO except for the capital expenditure at NRAO. I mean buying of land, buildings, and all that which involved a lot more money than university facilities.

Sullivan

What percentage of visitors came?

Menon

Very few visitors in the early days. Very, very few visitors. I mean because most of the prospective visitors had instrumentation, comparable instrumentation, at their own places. Michigan, Caltech had the interferometer going by that time.

Sullivan

Ohio State.

Menon

Ohio State, and Harvard had...

Sullivan

NRL

Menon

NRL. So they all had comparable instrumentation.

Sullivan

So it was really only when the 300 foot came that you began to get visitors I guess?

Menon

Yes, basically yes. Only, the 3.75 cm receiver in the initial days was rather substantial improvement over what existed as well even though Fred Haddock also got a similar receiver soon afterwards. And that was built by the Ewen Knight Corporation. And it was by the standards of that day, a pretty good receiver. It had a traveling wave tube front end so it had a nice sensitivity, broad bandwidth.

Sullivan

Ok, well Iím ending the history about í65 because it just gets too complex after that but I would be interested in what you can tell me about the beginnings of radio astronomy in India. Even though you may have not personally been involved in that, I donít know.

Menon

Well indirectly I have been involved in it. Well you see, by chance, it so happened that a number Indians got into radio astronomy fairly early in the game. As I said, in 1952 when I came to Harvard, I could have gone to Australia to work in radio astronomy but instead of me, [Govind] Swarup and Parthasarthy went to Australia. And Das Gupta was working at that time at Jodrell Bank, Manchester at that time. And a little later, early 1954 or so, [Mukul Ranjan] Kundu went to France. And so, several of us...

Sullivan

[Venkataraman] Radhakrishnan?

Menon

Radhakrishnan, well in Sweden. He was in Sweden. So several of us by chance got into radio astronomy. So we used to occasionally whenever we met, we used to talk about the possibility of having a national facility in India if all of us could get together but it didnít proceed very far until 1961. IAU [International Astronomical Union], at the IAU at Berkeley, several of us happened to be there and one day in the dormitory room in which we were staying, we discussed the possibility and we drafted a possible plan of action saying that we would like to do such and such experimental setup. And write to possible agencies, the government of India, asking if any facilities, any support would be available.

Sullivan

What was the setup that you wanted?

Menon

Well, we wanted all of us to be in the same organization and we wanted basically, we wanted a low frequency, large surface area instrument. We had not decided as to the exact type of instrument but we decided that we could not compete in the high frequency with the more advanced countries but in the lower frequencies we can. And in terms of construction costs, it would be lower. Surface accuracies would be lower so we can also compete in terms of large surface area at the lower frequencies. So that was the general concept and so we wrote it up as a proposal. We did not much more definite than this but given the reasons why.

Sullivan

Prospectus, really.

Menon

Prospectus. We sent it to three different people, three different persons concerned with research in India, scientific research in India. And one of them was then the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission who was a theoretical physicist who was also director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research who was doing a lot of work, I mean, Homi Bhabha was doing a lot of work in cosmic rays.

Sullivan

What was his name?

Menon

Bhabha Of course, cosmic ray people had a lot of interest in radio astronomy and we knew personally many of them, old classmates of mine. So we wrote to Bhabha and Bhabha was not really a very dynamic leader. I was at Green Bank at that time so Bhabha sent me a cable from Vienna within a week sending this thing, asking me to meet him in Washington the week after. He was coming for some meeting so I went and saw him. He asked for details of all sort of things, lab space and this and that. He said, "Alright, I agree." But I didnít go until much much later.

Sullivan

But this is how the Tata Institute got into radio astronomy?

Menon

Yes.

Sullivan

The institute was there before?

Menon

Oh, the institute was there long before. It was a very large institute. There was a lot of work in physics of various sorts, in cosmic rays and in particle physics.

Sullivan

And who were the radio astronomers who got it going?

Menon

Initially when it was first started three of us were supposed to go: Kundu, Swarup, and myself. We accepted the offer Bhabha made, the positions and all that but then I just then got married in the States so it was for personal reasons that I decided to stay a little longer. Swarup went. He had just finished his thesis at Stanford and he decided he would go. And I agreed with Dr. Bhabha that I would visit there a year to help in whatever way I can. So in í63 Swarup went and Kundu went later in í63. So they are the ones who got it started. But since I was here and initially there was some need for some foreign exchange to buy some computer hardware and things like that. Being here helped a great deal because NSF organization was much simpler in those days and the radio astronomy committee were all known radio astronomers. They very sympathetically viewed this request.

Sullivan

I see.

Menon

The amounts involved were not very large and things would get through very quickly. In that way I helped from this side. And then, of course, the detailed design of the dish.

Sullivan

This is the Ooty dish [Radio Telescope] that was the first thing that was?

Menon

Yes.

Sullivan

Ok, thank you very much. So that ends the interview with Kochu Menon in Charlottesville on 19 March í75.


Modified on Wednesday, 13-Feb-2013 10:17:12 EST by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)