Interview with Grote Reber on 12 March 1978

Description

Grote Reber, 1911-2002. Interviewed 12 March 1978 in Tasmania, length of interview: 90 minutes.

Creator

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III

Rights

NRAO/AUI/NSF

Type

Oral History

Interviewer

Sullivan, Woodruff T., III

Interviewee

Reber, Grote

Location

Tasmania, Australia

Original Format of Digital Item

Audio cassette tape

Duration

90 minutes

Interview Date

1978-03-12

Interview Topics

Follow-up questions to 10/1975 interview plus ones raised while looking through archives; non-radio astronomy projects: twining bean stalks, Aboriginal 14C site dating, cosmic ray geiger tube improvements and data analysis.

Notes

The interview listed below was either transcribed as part of Sullivan's research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009) or was transcribed in the NRAO Archives by Sierra Smith in 2012-2013. The transcription may have been read and edited for clarity by Sullivan, and may have also been read and edited by the interviewee. Any notes added in the reading/editing process by Sullivan, the interviewee, or others who read the transcript have been included in brackets. If the interview was transcribed for Sullivan, the original typescript of the interview is available in the NRAO Archives. Sullivan's notes about each interview are available on the individual interviewee's Web page. During processing, full names of institutions and people were added in brackets and if especially long the interview was split into parts reflecting the sides of the original audio cassette tapes. We are grateful for the 2011 Herbert C. Pollock Award from Dudley Observatory which funded digitization of the original cassette tapes, and for a 2012 grant from American Institute of Physics, Center for the History of Physics, which funded the work of posting these interviews to the Web.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event.

Series

Working Files Series

Unit

Individuals Unit

Transcription

Transcribed for Sullivan by Bonnie Jacobs.

Sullivan

OK, this is talking with Grote Reber on 12 March ’78 at his home in Boswell, Tasmania. And we’ve had a delightful weekend moving boxes around. But this is to fill in odd questions from the previous transcript and things which have come up this weekend. First of all, I was wondering why you put a solid surface on the reflector at Wheaton rather than just a mesh, which would be much lighter, of course.

Reber

A mesh is only worthwhile if it stays a mesh. But if it fills up then it's the same as a solid surface and it can easily fill up, with snow and ice in a winter climate. And if you remember, I started off at a very short wavelength so it was going to have to be a very small mesh. So that's all there is to it.

Sullivan

So it was basically the high frequency that you started off at? If you were thinking of 160 from the beginning you probably would have...

Reber

Finally have done something different.

Sullivan

Yes. Also, where did you get the idea to put the preamplifier right up at the focus, which was not the usual practice until the mid-50s again, really?

Reber

Well, it just seemed obvious, that is, signals that are going to be encountered are very small, so you want the least amount of loss between the antenna and the first tube so you put it as close to the antenna as possible. And at that stage of the game it wasn't going to be necessary to tune it, so it could be a fixed-tune system.

Sullivan

OK. Another thing is that we discovered many letters that you sent to, for instance, Otto Struve, and Shapley, and to the Office of Naval Research after World War II, seeking funding with a definite two year program. And this is when you decided you wanted to leave Wheaton for various reasons. Did you have any advice on where you should go for the money or were you just shooting around?

Reber

Not really, because I'd worked in industrial places up to that point and we just serviced commercial customers and during the War, we, of course, provided equipment for the military. So I didn't have any particular idea of where I could secure any money and these just seemed like possibilities.

Sullivan

And what sort of replies did you get?

Reber

Usually I didn't get any reply. So I deduced that people weren't particularly interested and that this was not the proper time.

Sullivan

And so in fact that was what led you to NBS [National Bureau of Standards], not particularly because you wanted to go.

Reber

That's right. The NBS was having its Radio Division reorganized and under this reorganization there was an expansion in staff and they had some extra money. So the management seemed to feel that they wanted to indulge in some esoteric things, but not too esoteric. So I was commissioned to provide a service on making observations on solar radio waves.

Sullivan

And in fact, as you told me this weekend but I hadn't realized it, you worked for NBS for three years to...

Reber

Nearly four years, about 3.5 years.

Sullivan

Until '51.

Reber

Yes.

Sullivan

And that's the last time you were on a salary.

Reber

That's right.

Sullivan

Can you tell me how you been supporting yourself?

Reber

I didn’t work for those radio companies for free, and consequently I always had a little more money than I expended, and so that was invested in a conservative manner and it has served me well in later years.

Sullivan

So you bought it during the Depression basically?

Reber

Yes. Benjamin Franklin had something to say about that. I believe his statement was that if you were effective you should be able to earn a living and provide yourself with enough wherewithal in the first forty years so that you could spend the last forty years of your life doing public-interest things. And Andrew Carnegie had a similar statement, from a very much richer man, who stated that he spent the first half of his life making his money and the second half of his life giving it away. I don't give much away.

Sullivan

So in fact, all of the grants that you've had from Research Corporation have been simply for buying equipment and travel and things like this?

Reber

That's correct.

Sullivan

Now in the previous interview I got the background on your father and where he came from, but I didn't get your maternal background. Can you tell me a little about that?

Reber

Well, I don’t know too much about it, but there were a couple of Grote brothers who came from Germany about in the 1850s. I believe they were people were disenchanted with the German operation after the revolution of 1848, which failed. And they were merchants, at least my grandfather was a merchant [Reber: William Fredrick Grote. He had two sons.]. They set up in Wheaton, Illinois as the Grote Brothers.

Sullivan

What kind of merchandise?

Reber

Just a general store. And I should say, it's an interesting story the old boy used to tell. In that day there were no automobiles and the horse-drawn was very poor, and so their merchandise came back and forth on the railway. And they got most of their staple products from the big city, Chicago, which is 25 miles away. And it was flashed out on the telegraph that there was a big fire starting in Chicago. So my grandfather thought, "Well, I'd better get in there and get stocked up on supplies before I get caught short." So he rushed in there on the very first early-morning train he could get, which in that day left about 4:30 in the morning, and he got in to the northwestern station and he was met by the police, who commandeered every able-bodied man and everybody else was turned back to where they came from on the next train. So he was in sort of prison, well, not quite the right word, but anyhow, they made him pump water. Now in that day they didn't have any portable pumps driven by machinery and these pumps were on a four-wheel wagon and there were two bars, one along each side. And they'd line about six men up on each side and they'd work this bar up and down by hand. So he had to pump all day until he was completely exhausted and then they escorted him back to the railway station and put him on the train. He figured there was no more point in going into the city.

Sullivan

What was the actual name of your father? I didn't get that also.

Reber

Schuyler Colfax Reber.

Sullivan

And your brother was a junior?

Reber

That's right.

Sullivan

And we've discovered some interesting correspondence with your brother who was a graduate student at Harvard Business School.

Reber

Yes.

Sullivan

But you had him running over to Harvard Astronomy Department and the MIT Physics Department. Can you tell me about that?

Reber

I was trying to prompt my brother, who had sensibly no interest in scientific matters and was all thumbs, in trying to represent me before people in astronomy and engineering. And this was not a very satisfactory approach.

Sullivan

One thing I didn't ask about before and I'd like to now is: can you tell me what a typical day or week was like from the period 1937 to 1944 in terms of just how did you spend your time?

Reber

I worked in the city, of course, during the day and usually had to leave about 7:00 to 7:30 in the morning, something on that order, because work in those days started at 8:00 and not 9:00. And then we finished at 5:00 and I'd get back home around 6:00 or so, and I'd get something to eat and then maybe look at the newspaper or listen to the radio for a little while.

Sullivan

You were living by yourself this whole time?

Reber

No, my mother was a widow. I lived there with her. Then I would undertake to do various things on this radio astronomy business, in the basement usually. Well, I took some time out, I used to change jobs occasionally from here to there and maybe take three months in between. There didn't seem to be any difficulty in getting a job, they were fairly plentiful. Radio was one of the big industries in Chicago. There were many manufacturers.

Sullivan

Even though it was the depression?

Reber

Oh yeah. Well, I think even today there is supposed to be a depression now, but try to get anybody good to do anything, they've all got more work than they can handle. It was the same thing there.

Sullivan

But you were a good engineer though.

Reber

Well, apparently. So then on weekends I would also work on these matters.

Sullivan

But how long did you work into the evening?

Reber

It depended. When I was making those first observations I used to get up about midnight or one o'clock, maybe go to bed immediately after dinner, and then I'd take these readings until sunrise at which time I'd have some breakfast and go back to work. But it was pretty obvious that this couldn't be kept up. So when I finally got some results, then I reorganized the thing so it recorded automatically and then in the evening all I had to do was set the dish to a new declination, calibrate the equipment, let it warm up and start the recorder operating and then the next morning turn it off. That's all there was to it. So that way I got a lot more sleep.

Sullivan

And on weekends...?

Reber

More or less the same kind of thing but maybe on the weekends I would work on hardware. But sometimes I would go into the city on weekends and work in the radio company shops on hardware. It depended. But weekends were usually hardware.

Sullivan

Do I have it correct that you basically, for a period of eight years or something, really did nothing else but this and work, you didn't take any vacations and you didn't play sports or anything like this?

Reber

Pretty much. Like the postman that went for a walk on his day off... I didn't do athletics or go to various kinds of artificial entertainments and those kinds of things because I just didn't have time.

Sullivan

But you did tell me that you played quite a bit of tennis.

Reber

That was some years earlier.

Sullivan

As a teenager?

Reber

Yes, and early twenties I used to play tennis and basketball, not greatly. I was never a great athlete or anything like that because I was too light. And actually when you get to brass tacks most of this athletic stuff seemed to be sort of dull.

Sullivan

Also, could you tell me some more details about your ham activities, when they began and when they stopped and more or less what you did then?

Reber

I was still in high school and I think I got my first license in 1927 or 1928. And if we'd hunted around in the right box, we would have found them. They’re around here. I think they're stored with my amateur radio receiver and a few other... Oh yes, one of those lists gives a box that has all the QSL cards and correspondence and all that stuff, amateur radio. Well, anyhow, I was still in high school, either 16 or 17, when I got my first radio license. [Reber: My operating license was signed by Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce] And then I did amateur radio for about four years when I got through doing college work. Then I graduated from college in the spring of 1933, you saw that diploma. And then I got assorted jobs hither and yon around the Chicago area and it was about that time that I became conversant with Jansky's work. Also we moved about this time because my father died in 1933 and we moved the following year, I think. And I never did anymore amateur radio after that, at the new location where I lived.

Sullivan

So you really switched from active to passive?

Reber

That's right.

Sullivan

You did win a prize during that time which we came across. What was that?

Reber

There was a MacMillan Arctic expedition and one of the people in Chicago who had a son, I think, who was radio operator on this MacMillian expedition, put up a prize for contacting this expedition and handling messages, that kind of thing. And they didn't go very far, they were up on the coast of Labrador somewhere. I don't know how far they got, to tell you the truth. Anyhow, I think there were three prizes put up, and I got one of them, that was during the days I was still amateur radioing.

Sullivan

Do you see this period as vital or helpful in any way in terms of learning the basics of radio? Or did you mainly do that through your college work?

Reber

Well, yes, it gave me some idea of how radio circuits worked and gave me expertise in the handling of tools and soldering and drilling and laying out, and all that stuff. So that when I went to work in the radio industry I had a considerable background of just simple knowledge. And while I had a degree in electrical engineering, the first job I got was just as a solder slinger in a service department, where you start at the bottom. But the engineering department, of course, was looking for people who had more than just solder slinger experience. So then I got transferred from the service department to engineering.

Sullivan

Ok, moving on here. You mentioned in the previous transcript that you were going to try and get some of these old photographs, taken by your mother's heavy hand, de-blurred. Did you ever succeed in that?

Reber

Well, mostly at the time she was the only other person around there, so if I wanted a picture taken of me and something she was the available person. And she had some way of coming down very fast with her thumb on the button which would whacked the camera, and that would blur the picture. So if you look at a blurred picture, you can practically always tell that she did it.

Sullivan

But you were going to try and get these de-blurred.

Reber

Oh yes, I'd forgotten about that.

Sullivan

Has that ever worked?

Reber

When did I tell you that?

Sullivan

Two years ago.

Reber

Well, Ok. I showed them to you, did I? I had them with me and I went out to Green Bank and I left them with those fellows there. David Hogg had them and he made some inquiries, apparently it can be done, but it's not done on a commercial basis and the people he contacted were somewhat eccentric and consequently as far as I'm able to determine, nothing has been done. But he informed me a while ago he still had the negatives. So when the time comes, if this becomes a practical proposition, we'll get them de-blurred. A few more years won't make any difference.

Sullivan

Another thing that I've come to appreciate as I look at the records this weekend, is the tremendous problem of feeding the antenna. There are many problems, of course, the mechanical one of the antenna, feeding the antenna, the front-end, the back-end, the astronomical interpretation, but it seems to me that really was quite fundamental because there was very little information about how to go about doing this.

Reber

That's true, that is, in engineering school they don't teach you astronomy even as a liberal arts subject, because they've got so many other things they think are important for engineers. So, I was always more or less interested in astronomy in a peripheral sort of way and I took a few pictures of the night sky.

Sullivan

Which we found.

Reber

Yes.

Sullivan

Well, you told me about this. But I'm curious about feeding the antenna, the design of the feed. How did you proceed with that?

Reber

Just straightforward, that is, it was pretty obvious the antenna should be arranged so it looks only at the dish. If it looks over the edges of the dish, then it can get extraneous radiations in from the sides, or from the back and so on. So, you had to have something which would shield the antenna and only allow it to look in the desired direction toward the dish. I think I read some articles by Southworth about this time, it was just about those same years, middle ‘30s, on wave guides, and I decided maybe the open end of a wave guide would be a good thing. So I set up a microwave investigation to determine the shape of the aperture that would be desirable to produce any given illumination onto the dish. And then I found that...

Sullivan

Were these rectangular or conical?

Reber

Well, they were cylindrical at first, cylinders. And there was a plunger in back so you could shorten or lengthen the cylinder behind the [Reber: pickup] antenna. And if you got the antenna just exactly right then the wave reflected from the back wall reinforced the wave. So it was sort of like a resonant chamber and the antenna was at an auspicious place. There was a hole only at the opposite end of the chamber so the antenna could hardly at all look outside. It was so far back up in the chamber and the pattern was determined by the orifice. It seemed to be fairly straightforward, but maybe not too obvious. Anyhow, I thought it was the way to go about it.

Sullivan

To get high efficiency, though... to do it to some extent is one thing, but to do it well is something else. Now, going back even before your time, do you have any opinion on why there were no known efforts to detect the Sun after the 1902 one, the last effort we know?

Reber

Probably the reason is that Planck's blackbody radiation laws became well known and it would be possible to compute the amount of flux arriving at the surface of the earth from the sun at any given radio wavelength. And it was far below what any radio receiver of the day could possibly detect.

Sullivan

Taken to 6000 K?

Reber

That's right. So a 6000° disk, a half a degree in diameter, would produce at 20 meters [Sullivan: wavelength] or whatever it was, such a feeble intensity that nobody even bothered. As a matter of fact, that's the reason I didn't bother to begin with.

Sullivan

That's right.

Reber

And then I just took a gamble and lo and behold it wasn't 6000°, it was more like a million.

Sullivan

Also before your active work, can you tell me about this story that you heard about a fellow working in the Philippines?

Reber

Well, these stories improve with age and they change with circumstances.

Sullivan

Well, I'll try to track it down more if you can give me the start point.

Reber

OK. The story is simply this: there was a young man named Gordon Stagner who was one of the radio operators of RCA communications in Manila. This was in the early days of shortwave radio, the late ‘20s or about 1930. And they were putting through a straight circuit from California to Manila, I've forgotten the exact place near Manila. Anyhow, they used some short wavelengths around 15 meters, or 20 meters on that order. The circuits were pretty primitive, they didn't have superheterodynes either, because I saw some of that early equipment, it was nothing but a TRF set with regenerative detector and audio amplifier and some relays and things. And it came over as tone. And he found that at certain hours of the early morning the circuits seemed to have an abnormal amount of background hiss of them. At least, that's his story that they did. And that this was not present during the day, even at much higher frequencies. You have to remember these circuits operated at a frequency such that the radio transmission went around the curvature of the Earth, the ionosphere was effective. That would be near the horizon, but the ionosphere might be transparent overhead. I don't think he realized that, that wasn't realized until very much later. Anyhow, he told me that he investigated this matter to the extent he could, made some observations, but to the best of my knowledge he never wrote anything down. At least if he had, it has disappeared long ago.

Sullivan

When did he tell you this?

Reber

He told me this after the War, maybe about 1953.

Sullivan

And when did he notice the effect?

Reber

The observations were made somewhere between 1928 and 1930. I think he was of Spanish origin and a native of the Philippines and in the service of RCA, and I believe he had training here in America. He's not a Filipino. He got caught there in the War and served in a prison camp all during the war, and then when the War was over RCA transferred him to Hawaii and that's where I met him. He told me that after the war the policy was to 'Filipinize' the thing, that is, everybody on the staff had to be trained and organized and be a Filipino, now that the Philippines was a separate government. And part of his job was to 'Filipinize' the RCA operation in Manila. When that was completed, he was transferred to Honolulu.

Sullivan

Do you know where he is now?

Reber

In Honolulu, he is retired and lives there.

Sullivan

Could you please tell me the story about how you were getting so many visitors who came knocking at your front door and asking about this strange thing, that you a solution.

Reber

This contrivance, of course, created some local curiosity immediately after it was put up. But it soon became one of the features of town, like the courthouse or the church or the school or the police station. And the local people paid no more attention to it. This happened pretty rapidly, within a couple of months, really. But occasionally there would be people who would come along in an automobile and they would stop, and they'd gawk out of the window at this thing, and you'd immediately say, "Ah, there's a stranger in town." And this was in a place which at that time was rather conspicuous, that is, it could be seen from three streets. It was not too far, about 2.5 blocks from the railway station in the center of things, and could be seen from three streets. So any stranger in town practically couldn't help but see it.

Sullivan

It had a high cross-section to strangers.

Reber

That's right. So occasionally they'd get out and wander around and look at it and maybe take some pictures. And some of them would be sufficiently curious and energetic to come and push the doorbell and inquire as to what this thing was. So we thought that it might be desirable if we got a jukebox and had a tape recording - well it wouldn't be a tape in those days - but anyhow, a recording with a sign saying, "Put quarter in slot and find out what this is all about." However, we didn't get that far.

Sullivan

Listen to the cosmic hiss, or something like that.

Reber

"Messages from space."

Sullivan

What did your mother think of all this?

Reber

Well, she put up with me.

Sullivan

So it was just tolerated?

Reber

That's true.

Sullivan

One person that went down and visited you, I forget who, remembered your mother complaining about there was no room to hang up the laundry in the backyard because of this thing.

Reber

That's probably true.

Sullivan

You also told me that Fred Whipple had the idea to put an antenna, a Yagi or something, on the dome of an optical telescope. Can you tell me about that?

Reber

Well, this was many years later, after the War, and I don't remember the circumstances. But it was probably one of these AAS [American Astronomical Society] meetings. I talked to Fred, you see in the ‘30s he was a graduate student at Harvard, and he told me that at that time at least they had had thought about it, presumably he and somebody else, and this somebody else wasn't specified but maybe it was Jesse Greenstein. As far as I know, nothing was done or even a formal proposition made to the management, but at least Fred considered it. And the idea was to put some kind of outriggers connected to the dome of the 60 inch telescope, and use that for mounting rhombic antenna on these outriggers, and then turn it around the horizon using the dome.

Sullivan

But nothing ever came of it.

Reber

No. There has been several circumstances of the same thing. In other words, they were going to copy what Jansky did.

Sullivan

So in the Friis article in 1965 Science he says here that Jansky...

Reber

"He wrote, for example, a detailed report on a conference that he attended on this subject at the Naval Research Laboratory in May 1948." That's actually in the National Bureau of Standards. I was there.

Sullivan

And who organized this meeting, do you remember?

Reber

I think it was an URSI [International Union of Radio Science] thing, but I'm not too sure. It was not astronomers, it was some communications thing, URSI or...

Sullivan

But you remember Jansky giving the talk?

Reber

Oh, definitely. It's very unlikely that there are any conferences of any kind such as this at the Naval Research Laboratories, it just prohibitively difficult to get the personnel in.

Sullivan

That's true. Would you please tell me the story about the people from NBS, when you were looking for a job, coming to visit and what happened when you went to show them the Sun? And who were they?

Reber

It was sort of an extemporaneous visit and it written down in some of those books, if we'd fished long enough. An appointment had been made by two fellows at NBS, Kenneth Norton and Jack Herbstreit. They been somewhere out in Iowa doing something, I'm not sure. It was 1946. I had my 480 megacycle really going good by that time. And an appointment was made for them to come and see what I was doing, so they did. And they got there about 11 o’clock, so I explained the equipment to them and showed them what went on, and I suggested they hang around a little longer and see the Sun transit. So they did, and the background was pretty noisy, that is, there were a lot of fluctuations on the background long before the Sun got into view. It was a little bit of an abnormal day because you could hear automobile ignition noises in there, which wasn't usually near as bad at 480 as it used to be at 160. But the background was fluctuating and I didn't think too much about it. And then there was a rise which went up maybe about a third scale. And then it went back down again. And this rise was all jagged, not smooth at all. And then maybe about another ten minutes later, there was another rise, and this rise went just practically up to the top of the scale and then came back down again. And then pretty soon, within a few minutes, the pen went right off scale and stayed off scale for about 15 minutes at the time the Sun transited. And then it came back down again and went through two more sidelobes.

Sullivan

Well, as you know now, but...?

Reber

Ah yeah, we knew they were sidelobes then. See it wasn't at all obvious until the whole apparition was over, but it was very clear once you'd seen this thing, which happened within an hour, that the Sun was exceedingly strong, fluctuating, and that these side lobes were now visible because the Sun was up by a factor of a hundred or something compared to what it normally was. Under normal circumstances you couldn't see the sidelobes at all.

Sullivan

And this was the first time you'd seen this sort of activity?

Reber

Well, that was probably the first time we'd seen it at 480 megacycles, yes. So, they were quite impressed. So the Sun put on a good show on the important date. Oh yes, during this period when the pen was off scale, we went outside. You see, the pen stayed off scale for about 15 minutes or so. So it was possible to go outside and unclamp the dish and turn it away from the Sun. And the pen came right back down to background level. So then we put it back on the Sun again and the pen went right off scale again. So, it was very evident that these disturbances were coming from the Sun. There was some limiting on the receiver, so when the pen was put considerably off scale you just didn't hear anything, the whole system blocked audibly. But when the pen was on scale, then you could hear this fluctuating hissing noise. There was another fellow with him, Salisbury, from I think Collins Radio at Cedar Rapids, there were three of them. And Salisbury listened and he thought he could hear other sounds, that is, grinding noises and that kind of thing, but none of the rest of us could.

Sullivan

And it wasn't long thereafter that you went to work for NBS?

Reber

That's right, the next year, that is, we went through a lot of rigmarole and finally I made arrangements to join NBS in the following year, 1947.

Sullivan

Well, speaking of NBS, this was the period also when you came up with the idea of...

Sullivan

Continuing with Grote Reber on 12 March ‘78. Once you got to NBS, one of the things you were interested in doing was building a big dish and you put quite a bit of effort into designing it.

Reber

That's right.

Sullivan

Can you tell me about that?

Reber

It was pretty obvious that with the receiving equipment available at that time that everything was sensitivity limited, so we needed a lot of pick-up area to get something to listen to. And a big dish seemed to be the answer. So I made an assortment of engineering designs and built a small model and tried to promote it, but I didn't get anywhere because it was only 1948 or 1949, and that was about 10 years before big dishes got any kind of respectability. This design, of course, was an enlargement and pretty much a copy of my 30 foot dish in Wheaton. Then the blokes at Sugar Grove copied my design and expanded it up another factor of three to 600 foot and then failed.

Sullivan

Some things you just can't scale up.

Reber

That's right, you've got to do more than just scale up.

Sullivan

Did you have any cost estimates for it at that time? We saw an entire bow of drawings, etc.

Reber

Oh, no, we didn't cost it, but it was going to cost a couple hundred thousand dollars, anyhow, even in that day. I can’t remember how many tons of steel went into it. It was designed as cheaply as possible. It used simple, well-known and available steel members.

Sullivan

And this actually was considered by AUI [Associated Universities Inc.] in the mid ‘50s also as a possibility.

Reber

Well, yes. AUI finally got started in the middle '50s when NSF [National Science Foundation] got underway, and they were looking around for a design for a big dish. And I offered my design and it appeared in one of their resumes of the state of the art. But it wasn't chosen, they elected to do something else.

[Interruption]

Sullivan

Now we are driving to the airport with a bit of background noise. I'd like to ask you about some of the other interests you've had besides radio astronomy, electrical engineering, and ionospheric physics, which we’ve discussed on tape before. The first one I think historically is the beans business. Is that correct?

Reber

Ah yes.

Sullivan

And can you tell me how you got interested in that and what you did?

Reber

I was in Hawaii at the time and my neighbor planted a row of about 20 poles with climbing beans on them. And I noticed that they all turned the same direction. And I called it to his attention and much to my surprise he had not noted that even though he’d been growing these beans for 20 years, perhaps. So I said, "Ah, look, Jerome, how about me taking all the odd numbered poles and reversing the vines forcibly, tying them back?" He said, "Sure, we've got plenty of them here; if some of them die it won't make much difference." So I did that and these vines grow fairly rapidly during their few weeks of the growing season so I had to wind them back and tie them about every three days. And these plants grew at the same speed, apparently the same amount of foliage, and they flowered profusely and produced a considerable number of beans. And so we picked the beans and ate them and they were just as tasty as the ones that grew on normal vines. You couldn't see any difference whatsoever. In other words, handling the beans in this fashion didn't seem to have any effect as far as the growth of the plant, the prolifieness of the fruit, or the taste of the fruit- no effect. Well, that wasn't a very good experiment because it had no control. And the main thing that was out of control was the amount of water in the beans, they were all green. So I determined to do the whole thing again but much better. And about that time I went to Green Bank, West Virginia and worked there for a summer.

Sullivan

What year was that?

Reber

About 1959, I think. I decided to try several varieties. So I had a patch plowed up and got a bunch of stakes and put in several rows of different varieties, each row had about 30 stakes in it. And the odd numbered ones were allowed to remain normal and the even numbered ones were reversed. So we had a similar number of normal and reversed vines. This time, instead of picking the beans and eating them, decided we'd try to do it more quantitatively, so I let the beans in the pods mature on the vine and they dried and withered and got crinkly and most of the water went out of them. So this reduced one of the variables. Well, the bean pods come in different sizes, some of the smallest ones had just one bean in, and there were two bean pods, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and sometimes even 8 or 9 beans in a long pod, although they were quite rare. The average pod maybe had about 5 beans in it. So then they were divided up into groups, that is, how much did 100 bean pods weigh that had one bean in from an the normal vine versus the reversed vines, you get the same answer. Two beans in, about the same. By the time I got 3 beans, l it was apparent that the pods from the reversed vines weighed less than 100 pods from the normal vines. And this situation accentuated as the number of beans in a pod increased.

Sullivan

It looks like it was significantly difference?

Reber

Oh, definitely. Something like about 12%. So, it was apparent there was something about this thing which was influenced by an end effect. If the pod had a lot of ends compared with the center, then you couldn't see the phenomenon. But if the pod was a long pod and had small ends compared with the center, then the effect was more pronounced.

Sullivan

You're saying an 'end' effect?

Reber

Yes, that is, whatever was changing, was changing along the center of the pod, not the ends.

Sullivan

Oh, I see, yes.

Reber

In other words if the pod had a high ratio of end material to center material, then the phenomenon didn't appear, but if you had a high ratio of center material to end material, like a long pod, then the phenomenon was present and it increased. So then the pods were shucked, that is, the husks were taken off and the beans taken out. And they, of course, were all carefully sorted. So we had a group of beans from pods with one bean in, another group with two beans, another group with three beans, and so on. And then 100 beans in the three bean group were prepared to be weighed with a 100 beans of the normal vines. Of course, I guessed wrong. I couldn't see any significant difference, the same with all the other categories. So the difference was not in the beans. So then I weighed the shucks, and that’s where the difference was, in the shucks. It turned out that the reversal vines' pods had lighter weight shucks, at least in the upper categories. I couldn’t find anything in the low-bean shucks. So there was something about the shucks. And I tried to measure things on the shucks with a micrometer, but they’re so crinkly...

Sullivan

A little squishy, eh?

Reber

That's right. I couldn't make anything out of it. And this was done again a couple more times in some other varieties and they all responded in the same way. So, this demonstrated that if you handle a plant in this particular fashion, it reacted in that particular fashion, but nobody explained why it did this, although the handling of plants is nothing new, that is, orchardists manipulate their trees and they prune tomato plants to make them fruit sooner, and hedges are manipulated. It's a common thing, but as far as I know nobody else had ever tried it with beans.

Sullivan

Did you search the literature at all to see if anyone had worried about the sense of the helicity?

Reber

Oh, yes. That's a very popular thing, especially in the 19th Century. There are lots of articles about that. And the best one though was in a book written by a man whose name I can't remember, but he was an Englishman in India, in the heyday of the British Imperial India, and he taught school in Bombay [Reber: Calcutta]. But he had a lot of time and a lot of assistance and he used to go out and search the Indian countryside for interesting kinds of plants. And he wrote several volumes. One of these was "Turning Vines in India." [Reber: Published by Royal Botanical Society of Calcutta]

Sullivan

I see, a whole book!

Reber

A whole book. And he had a lot of them, that is, whole scores, I didn’t count them up, but he divided them up into right-handed turning and left-handed turning vines. This book had about 400 pages and they were approximately equally divided, about half as many pages on one direction and half the pages were the other. So in India the number of vines turning one way are equal to the number of vines turning the other way.

Sullivan

But the same species always turns the same way?

Reber

Well, not necessarily. A dozen beans, all of different variety turn the same way. And all the different varieties of hops turn the same way, which is the opposite way to beans.

Sullivan

No, but I mean if you have a single species all individual plants always turn the same way.

Reber

No.

Sullivan

There are some that go both ways?

Reber

Yes.

Sullivan

What part of the book were they in?

Reber

I don't remember, I didn't read the book, to be honest. But my own observations are that there are some species of climbing plants where some of the members turn one way and some of the members turn the other way. For instance, there's a bulb in California called rhodiea blumibus that grows on the slopes of the Cascades. Anyhow, the slopes of the mountains there, and rather high up, it’s small. It sends up a single runner, it looks like a runner of climbing beans, but there are no beans on it. It just has this long flower at the very top. It grows maybe 6 or 8 feet high. I found this in the Santa Ana Botanical Gardens near Pasadena. I wandered around there one day while I was staying with a friend in Pasadena. And here was the peculiar kind of vine growing up a small wire trellis. And they were obviously coming out of bulbs in the ground. Some of them were turning one way and some were turning the other way. And they were all rhodiea blumibus.

So I went in to the office and introduced myself and asked to talk to the head botanist, a man named Mr. Everett. I discussed this with him and he knew that this plant was there but he was not aware that they turned one way or the other way, or that they were turning vines. So we discussed this and I had him get out the card file to find out where they came from and how long they'd been there and how fast they grew, and all that kind of stuff, which he obligingly did. And while we were digging through this, a rather large heavy-set, gray-haired man came in, and injected himself into the conversation and came out with an absolutely flat statement that climbing vines turn one way in the Northern Hemisphere and turn the other way in the Southern Hemisphere. And I said, "Well, sir, I don't think that is true because I've been in Australia, having just come back recently, and I have planted beans down there and they turn the same way down there as they turn here." He says, "You didn't do it right." So I said, "Well, maybe I didn't do it right, but this is what I saw." "Well," he says, "there was something the matter."

Sullivan

I think he may have gotten mixed up with his freshmen physics course about tubs draining.

Reber

So, he then lit into Mr. Everett about this subject matter and Everett wanted to argue with him about it. Then he turned to me and he says, "It has been proven in the literature that vines turn one way in the Northern Hemisphere and turn the other way in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been proven in the literature!" So I figured there was no point in arguing with anybody who had seen it proven in the literature. Anyhow, about this time the thing got so heated that I decided it was a good time to leave. So there was another gentleman there named Mr. Ball, who was head gardener. So Ball and I left. Ball was obviously just as anxious to get out of there as I was. So Everett was stuck with this gentleman. So after we get out, I said to Ball, "Say, who is that big old gray haired fellow with the crotchety disposition?" And Ball says, "Oh, that is Dr. Muntz, he's the Director!" So, Obviously Dr. Muntz knew what was in the literature but he didn't know what was going on in the garden. Anyhow...

Sullivan

Did you ever look up these papers?

Reber

Well, then I got home late that night where I was staying with my friend. He taught school in one of these places around there, and I mentioned this to him. He said, "Oh, think nothing of it. That is the way Dr. Muntz is. You have accidentally, somehow, stepped on one of his pet peeves."

[Interruption]

Sullivan

Did you ever look up these articles?

Reber

This fellows name was Bill [?]. He says, "We’ve got a little time this evening and it seems to me that Muntz has written a new book recently." So we went over to the university or some college library, and it was open, and so Bill fished up this book by Dr. something or other Muntz, and thumbed through the index and came out with the interesting statement by Dr. Muntz just as he had stated it. In the book it said that, "twining vines turn one way in Northern Hemisphere and turn the other way in the Southern Hemisphere." So, Dr. Muntz knew what was in his book. I don't remember whether there were any references or anything like that given, there probably was, but Bill says, "Forget it, Dr. Muntz is that way, and it not to be thought anything of." So that was that. Since then I've learned that Dr. Muntz has departed.

Sullivan

So you published these results in a small West Virginia journal called Castanea, I believe.

Reber

That's right?

Sullivan

And you then continued your researches and you were just telling me you sent the second paper also to them. And what happened then.

Reber

Well, you see the first paper was sent there because the work was done at Green Bank, West Virginia. That seemed to be suitable.

[Interruption]

Reber

So, they accepted it, with apparently some misgivings. And then I left there, and the later work was done here in Tasmania. So the second collection of evidence and its interpretation were also sent to the Editor and he politely returned it, saying that it was not suitable for their publication, and he inferred strongly that he'd been reprimanded by his directors for letting this kind of material appear in their journal, which was supposed to be devoted to survey botany, i.e., the description and discovery of plants and their habitats and how they reproduced and so on. So it struck me, though, that this was just 100 years later the kind of thing that had happened to Gregor Mendel. The chairman of the meetings, wherever it was gave his speeches was severely reprimanded by his board of directors for allowing this kind of statistical mathematical material to appear from the chair of a Botanical Society. It had no business there.

Sullivan

Well, let's move on to another one of your interests. Haw about the carbon dating that you did of various aboriginal remains?

Reber

Well, that had its origin in Hawaii, also. There were lava flows that ran through forests and they left sort of holes where the flow went around a large tree which ultimately rotted out. But there were shards underneath. So I went around and dug some of these up and sent them away for carbon dating. It might be expected to only get dates of a few hundred years, because all the old flows were down underneath. The dates weren't very good either, they had a very high percent error, but it gave some idea. You could probably tell one flow was earlier than another flow.

[Interruption]

Reber

Well, that was all there was to that and I moved down here. I was just idly wandering around in Dervent Estuary and I took a boat trip down to the South Arm and got off there and wandered up about 3 miles. There was another place that the boat would come back later in the day and pick me up and take me back to Hobart. And while I was walking along I noticed there was a hill where the road department had cut a gash in the side of it, trying to straighten out a bend in the road. And this hill was in fact a sand dune. It had some grass on top, and then about a foot and a half of mixture of shells and charcoal between the top of the sand dune and the grass on the surface. And this obviously was what the archaeologists called a "kitchen midden", that is, the blacks came and fished up their shells and seafood and cooked them. These are usually pretty close to the place where they can harvest them out of the water. I scraped off maybe an inch or so of the surface to get something that might not be contaminated, but I didn't make any effort to get to the very bottom. I picked it out maybe 6 inches from the bottom. And I sent it for a date and I thought I'd get a few hundred years maybe, but much to my surprise I got a date of 2080 ± 150, or so. Anyhow, this made it more interesting. So I enlisted help from another fellow, Max Bennett, and over the next several years, maybe three years, we visited a number of these places around the island. They are all around the seashore because the blacks have been here a long time. And the idea was quite simple.

[Interruption]

Reber

Anyhow, the blacks lived there and we thought we'd just arbitrarily select some samples because they looked all more or less alike and how big these kitchen middens were didn’t necessarily depend on the age, but rather upon how fast the shellfish grew. So we dug to the bottom of maybe 15 or 20 and got an assortment of dates. In theory we should get a random selection of numbers up to some number where there might be one or two close together and then nothing beyond that. So that would be the time when the blacks arrived. It sounds pretty simple and straightforward. So we did that l and we did get a whole collection of numbers from about 300 to 400 years out to 8,500 on one site, I think on the Carlton River and 8700 on another site, Rocky Cape, just about 240 miles away on the other side of the island and then nothing beyond that. We got several around 5,000 to 6,000. So, what we expected turned up.

Well, about this time the Australian National University instituted a new department, The Institute of Aboriginal Affairs, and they sent out sociologists to interview the live ones and archaeologists to interview the dead ones. So about this time a young man named Rhys Jones showed up, a Welshman. And he had training in archaeology, I think at Cambridge, and he'd done diggings in Albania, Greece, Finland around the coast of Norway and Denmark. And he had some experience in these matters and some understanding. So we showed him our results. We took him to a couple of places and he looked it all over and he said, "Well, this is a very good experiment, well thought out, and it is done with vigor, and you got the right answer, but it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with when the blacks came." So this was sort of disconcerting. We said, "Ok, I’m on, if it’s got nothing to do with when the blacks came, what does it have to do with?" He said, "Well, all you found out is when the sea rose to its present level. Any middens which were older are underneath water or most likely to have been just washed away by wave action as the sea rolls. And that these dates around eight to nine thousand or 8,500 to 9,000 are very common and they are found on all the similar kinds of places along the coast of Norway and the Shetland Islands, Scotland, Denmark. So the sea rose up the same time all over the world." And in fact, as he put it, the sea rose up in two surges, one about 30,000 years ago, apparently about 150 feet, and in a smaller surge about 8,500-9,000 years ago, maybe about 100 feet. He said, "You are wasting your time if you go fussing around with this anymore. It's true this is the first good evidence we have that the sea rose in the Southern Hemisphere, but that is to be expected."

Sullivan

No one had been disputing the sea level was different down here!

Reber

No. That's right.

Sullivan

Vines may twine differently, but the sea is at the same level.

Reber

The sea is the same level.

Sullivan

But this corresponds to the retreat of the last glaciers and the melting of the glaciers.

Reber

That's right, the melting of the Wisconsin glaciers of North America. It probably has some other name. So he said if you want to do things right, you get away from the sea and go hunt around inland and find some caves where the blacks may have camped. You won’t find any sea shells, but you should find bones of native animals, charcoal, that kind of thing. Well, I had a lot of other things to do and I got sort of tired of it. So I didn't do anything. Anyhow, several years passed, and rather recently, maybe about a year and a half ago, a woman, also trained in Europe, came down here from the Institute of Aboriginal Affairs. She found a nice cave on Robbins Island, northwest part, an off-shore island, a rather small island. At the time the aborigines camped there it was not an island, it was just a hill. Now it's an island since the sea rose. There was a nice cave in there, since it's sort of remote and protected from vandals and other people. We found some caves, incidentally, and they had bones in them but they were sheep bones. So the caves we found were current. Anyhow, she had her samples carbon dated and it came out something around 12,000 years. So Rhys was right, if you get away from the seashore and find the right cave, you can get older dates. And that again isn’t particularly surprising because there are many sites on the mainland where the dates of 20,000 years ago, and inferences back about 25,000 years are available. So man has been here in Australia far longer than he’s been in North America.

Sullivan

And this was in the mid ‘60s that you were doing this?

Reber

That's right.

Sullivan

Let me ask you a general question. You seem with no fear whatsoever love to rush into a completely different field and just do it without having to worry about any background.

Reber

Well, you can spend a lot of time learning, it's true. But we did waste our time. If I had read a lot of literature and learned about all this beforehand, I may have never done it because I would have been convinced that what we were doing was a waste of time. So, ignorance is bliss.

Sullivan

But you are willing to take that risk essentially?

Reber

Sure. It was good fun. People say, "What are you doing that for?" and I say, "Look it, this is a lot more fun. It's intellectual, it's stimulating, you get out in the fresh air and see new and interesting places and meet new and interesting people, and all you do is club some poor little of white ball around the golf course. I think it's disgraceful."

Sullivan

Ok, let's move on to the other main area, I think, that you worked in, namely cosmic rays. How did you get involved with them?

Reber

Really, I don't know. But they had a Cosmic Ray Department at the University of Tasmania and I watched what they were doing. I looked at some of their results and they were doing harmonic analysis on their results, and I thought it might be possible to use this same data and handle it differently.

Sullivan

This is harmonic analysis on the time of arrival of...?

Reber

Of cosmic ray particles. In other words they had a lot of statistics, so many cosmic rays per minute, that all the different minutes in the hour and all the different hours in a day, and so on.

Sullivan

Using Geiger tubes?

Reber

Yes, using Geiger tubes.

[Interruption]

Sullivan

Well, you must have been thinking about cosmic rays because of your ionosphere work.

Reber

Oh, perhaps, to some extent. Anyhow, I took this data and handled it as you would handle a random set of voltages fed into bandpass filters. And then adjusted it so that one filter had a period of, I think, 24 hours even, and another had a filter of 23 hours and 56 minutes, 23 hours 52 minutes, and 23 hours 48 minutes, 24 hours and 4 minutes.

[Interruption]

Reber

Well, anyhow, when the data was fed into this system, it turned out that all we got was a lot of random numbers that averaged out to nearly a straight line on four of these. But the 23 hours and 56 minute one showed a definite hump in one place and a definite minimum in the other one. I think we had 7 years of data, each year was handled separately and then they were all combined. And the combined one was fairly interesting. So it looked as though maybe it was the sidereal component in cosmic rays, that is, a component fixed to the sidereal universe.

Sullivan

Were you doing these computations by hand?

Reber

Pretty much. We didn't have any machinery. I hired some kids at the university to work the data over and showed them what to do. They didn't know what they were doing, but they were getting paid. So, this got published in the Journal of the Franklin Institute about maybe 1965. Well, this sort of confirmed what the harmonic boys had shown, but did a little better in the sense that it was possible to get an idea of the number of particles associated with the sidereal component. It was a very small fraction, about a 10th of 1 percent of the total count. Anyhow, it turned out to be about one particle per minute per steradian per square meter. This is very small. So that's the reason it took seven years to even begin to show the phenomenon.

I didn't do any more on that. It didn’t seem profitable, that is, the technique wasn't much good, really, that is, with 50 years' data we'd have done a little better, but not a whole lot better. You need something much better. Thinking the whole thing over, it seemed that energy information contradictions were here, that is, these cosmic rays particles have tremendous energy, many millions of electron volts. And so if there were many particles, there would be a tremendous flux of energy. So a priori there has to be very few particles. This means you're only going to have a few events to deal with. So instead of trying some averaging technique that had been tried in the past, where you have all your tremendous number of events to average, we should try to learn more out of each event. In other words, get more information out of each event. This meant that each particle should be individually examined for energy and direction of arrival. With the cosmic ray Geiger counter technique this is not possible.

[Interruption]

Sullivan

So what was the best solution to this problem?

Reber

It was necessary to get more information about each individual particle. And this can only be done in a bubble chamber. I was now at Ohio State University and I made contact with the Physics Department, and with the the Argonne National Laboratories where they have a big bubble chamber. It turned out this was very fortunately oriented, in that it was about a meter in diameter, about 60 cm long, with the axis east-west. So, this then looked out on the meridian, that is, the plane through the north of zenith to south. And so I had a meridian transit cosmic ray telescope. And there were four cameras for stereo viewing the traces inside the bubble chamber. And there were vast quantities of photographs already available, because they run this chamber day-in and day-out, night and day as they fire into it stuff from their synchrotron.

Well, these traces of the cosmic rays looked like meteor traces across a photographic plate taken in the night sky. But we know the curvature of a trace from measurement and we know the magnetic field- that gives us the energy. So we now know the direction of arrival of the particle and its energy. So it's now possible to divide the particles up. So they were divided up from about 109 to 1010 electron volts, that's a billion to ten billion, 1010 to 1011, and 1011 and up. And I don't remember exactly how many particles we had. Altogether we had several hundred particles. So then we analyzed particles from the first group. I think we divided them up into smaller groups than that. I think from one to three, and three to ten, ten to thirty and so on. Anyhow, we divided them up, and into the lower energy groups, we couldn't find there was any difference in the galactic latitude or galactic longitude. So for all intents and purposes, the particles were coming in uniformly all the sky. However, when we got up to the 1011 electron volts, I think we only had 68 particles, some such small number, less than 100, it was found that a significantly larger fraction of them came from less than ±30° galactic latitude than from above that. So this suggested that there was slight clustering from the plane of the Galaxy of particles having energy of 1011 electron volts or greater. And this got published in the Publications the Astronomical Society in the Pacific, about 1970.

Sullivan

Do you have any more plans to follow it up?

Reber

It would be nice, but I've got so many other things to do. I'd like to encourage somebody else to do it. And actually, according to the magazines I read, they are going to shut this alternating gradient synchrotron down. We don't need that thing, anyhow. To run this experiment, all we need is the bubble chamber. So maybe we can get organized and just run the bubble chamber alone and analyze the data. But it would be nice to do a much larger scale instead of having less than 100 particles above 1011, have, say, 1000 particles.

Sullivan

Well, there must be much more data that exists. That's all that you had time to analyze.

Reber

That's right. There is much more data if we could get it.

Sullivan

And there was one other aspect of it which you told me about, namely l after you say the way that these two brothers at the University of Tasmania, what was their name?

Reber

A.G. and K.B. Fenton.

Sullivan

They were using 1940s technology and you determined that it could be done better. Can you briefly describe what you did?

Reber

Well, this data I analyzed was taken by Bob Jacklyn in an old railway tunnel by Cambridge [Sullivan: Tasmania]. But the tubes in it were glass tubes about a meter long and maybe a couple of inches in diameter 5 cm or 6. They had an internal plating on the tube and a tungsten wire down on the center. This was designed by people along in the 1940s. These tubes have a very large background count, that is, the tubes are continually being activated. I inquired about that and I was told that this was due to the radioactive 40K in the glass. Well, this seemed unfortunate. You should be able to design Geiger tubes that didn't have such a large internal noise. So these internal discharges were just like the noise in a radio receiver, so we needed to improve signal-to-noise ratio by a lot, not 2 or 10, but 100 to 1. This meant you had to cut down the internal noise generated by the tube itself. So I had some proper Geiger tubes made in Japan, different pressures, and tried them out. The copper should be pretty inert, no radioactive isotopes. So the tube should be of low background count, but it didn't turn out to be that simple. Because wherever I had these tubes, they still produced a fairly high count, not as high as the glass tubes, but pretty high, maybe half what the glass tube were doing. So then there was a big vat at CSIRO Labs in Hobart and stove for cooking things, maybe about 6 feet high, 3 feet in diameter with a big steel lid. And so I hung one of the Geiger tubes in there to see what would happen. And the count dropped, not much but maybe 3 or 4 percent, compared to outside. Then I filled the vat full of water and it dropped about another 5 or 6 percent. So the effect of the water was equal to or more than the .5 inch of steel.

End of Tape 96A

Sullivan Tape 96B

Sullivan

This is continuing with Grote Reber on 12 March ’78. So you found that water was rather effective.

Reber

Yes. So then I got the idea of putting the Geiger tube in a coal mine because coal is made out of carbon, and it should be very old carbon with all the radioactive isotopes died out long ago. And so it should be in an environment that's pretty dead. So I contacted the Bureau of Mines and they recommended a nice clean dry coal mine. So I took my equipment into this coal mine, about 500 feet or more underground, and tried it out and I got still a rather high count, not much different from outdoors. But it wasn't exactly surrounded by coal because they had mined out the coal and left rocks in the ceiling and the floor. And it appeared that radioactivity was coming out of the ceiling and the floor and not necessarily out of the coal. So that was sort of a failure. So then I thought, all right, let's try another scheme. And the hydroelectric commission had a big power station built in the side of a mountain, called Poatina. You go down a long ramp, this is a tourist contrivance. You go down there and take a look around this big power station, it's a hydroelectric system. There’s turning around room at the end of the ramp. And they only allowed people to go down there in diesel buses. They won't let you drive a petrol car down there. So I made the necessary arrangements. First I did some observations outside the entrance to this long ramp. It was 1/4 mile long.

[Interruption]

Reber

So I got a reference level from the background.

[Interruption]

Reber

Well, anyhow, I put all my gear on the bus and took it down to this turning alcove, which was pretty big, maybe about 60 feet square, and the bus disappeared. And I set it up in a corner out of the way, and turned it on. And I got a very high count, much higher than outside, maybe twice as high as outside, remarkably high. And I thought the equipment had broken down, so I put another Geiger tube in and got the same answer. And then the bus came back and I loaded all the gear in the bus and went outside and checked it outside again at the reference level and got the same reference level. Then took it back inside again and got the same. So there was something about this turning alcove.

[Interruption]

Sullivan

So it was pretty clear the environment was a pretty strong effect.

Reber

Yes. There was something about this turning chamber that had a very high radioactive content. And upon examining it, they had made it more pleasing by covering the bare rock wall by some kind of plaster. It seemed as though the stuff had a high radioactive content. So then I moved all the equipment out of the turning chamber and over into the main turbine hall, where you have rock walls. And immediately the count dropped to something lesser than what it was outdoors.

[Interruption]

Sullivan

So that was about as much as you did on, all this business?

Reber

No. I continued while I was there. I was there for a week or more, and they allowed me to crawl around their tunnels and aqueducts and things by myself. And I found that if I put the Geiger tube near one of their big flumes, about 11 feet in diameter full of fresh water, the count dropped appreciably, which again confirmed what I had already learned in this vat, that water was inert and a good shield if you had enough of it.

[Interruption]

Sullivan

But you didn't try to develop a new technique or try to measure any cosmic rays yourself or anything like that?

Reber

No. This was just an experiment to try and learn something about the background count in which the Geiger tube was immersed. So, about this time I found that they had partially dismantled the center turbine, in a row of five. These are vertical machines, maybe 25 feet high, with the turbine at the bottom and the generator up above. And the turbine wheel sits in a big steel casing, maybe only about 3 feet high. And they had somehow gotten this big heavy wheel out, and it was sitting on a wooden box in the turbine hall. And underneath were still the planks they used, and these planks were above the tail race, so this tail race had water running in it only a few inches below the planks. I decided to try and put my equipment in there and so I did. Now I had about 12 feet of water underneath and about 20 feet of steel and copper above and an inch of steel casing all around and some more heavy machines north and south. So this pretty thoroughly shielded the Geiger tube from all extraneous radiation from the walls. And the count went way down. Instead of making several counts per second it made only a few counts per minute. In other words, the counting rate dropped by at least 10, maybe 100 times. So this demonstrated that these copper tubes had a very low internal count when they are placed in an environment...

[Interruption]

Sullivan

And so there are no other scientific fields that you've been involved in besides the ones we've mentioned?

Reber

Nothing that I can think of at the moment.

Sullivan

Well, I think that's quite enough. Thank you. That ends the interview with Grote Reber on 12 March ’78 in Tasmania.



Citation

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III, “Interview with Grote Reber on 12 March 1978,” NRAO Archives, accessed October 15, 2021, https://www.nrao.edu/archives/items/show/15141.