The Manhattan Project

Lee DuBridge's Interview - Part 1

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Lee DuBridge was the founding director of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and later became the president of Caltech. In this interview, he describes his relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, beginning with the summer symposiums on theoretical physics at Ann Arbor, MI in the 1930s, where Oppenheimer lectured. DuBridge recalls the symposiums’ important role in facilitating fluid exchange of ideas in the tight-knit physicist community. During the war, DuBridge was asked by Oppenheimer to troubleshoot issues at Los Alamos, because of his experience with the Rad Lab. After the war, DuBridge and Oppenheimer both served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. DuBridge remembers Oppenheimer’s great grasp of detail, his ability to quickly absorb technical papers, and his ability as a lecturer.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
March 30, 1983
Location of the Interview: 
Pasadena
Collections: 
Transcript: 

Martin Sherwin: Today is March 30, 1983. I am at the CalTech campus and I am going to interview President Emeritus Lee DuBridge at his home in Pasadena.

Lee DuBridge: But we were on many things together and so we saw a good deal of each other. I visited him [J. Robert Oppenheimer] at his home in Princeton a number of times. We had meetings there and we would drop in for social visits and so on.

Sherwin: I would like to sort of try to bore in on some of the points.

DuBridge: The specific points that [laughter] I could fill in on. A symbol of the times, but in other sense he is a unique character and is hardly typical of the scientists of his day, because he was so different in so many ways in what he did and the way he did it and his personality and his troubles.

If you wanted a better example—I’m sure you don’t, but I’m just contrasting—an example of a man who lived through all these times and was really considerably more typical, I think, of how scientists, physicists especially, changed and adapted is I. I. Rabi. He did not have all the extremes of ups and downs that Oppie did, and lived an extremely distinguished—still does—life. But I would regard him as a better example of a physicist and how he has changed and adapted and moved forward during these last fifty or sixty years.

Sherwin: I do not think of Oppenheimer as typical in any way. There is a way of dealing with him, also talking about these issues, staying in touch with them. Of course, the fact from a historian’s point of view that he is an extreme case, in many respects is positive rather than—

DuBridge: Yes, providing you make it clear that—

Sherwin: You probably knew him somewhat in the ‘30s.

DuBridge: Oh yes. You see, I was here as a National Research Council fellow, 1926 to ‘28. He was around here part-time then.

Sherwin: I thought he went to Berkeley in ’29? 

DuBridge: Wasn’t it in ‘28?

Sherwin: ’28.

DuBridge: Anyway, he was here a little bit. I just barely got acquainted with him then, but I did not get to know him. I guess the first time when I really got to feel that I knew him, although I was acquainted with him before, was one summer, the summer of 1934 at Ann Arbor. They used to have a physics seminar every summer there. I was there in ‘29 and he was, too, briefly in ‘29 also. But, in ‘34 he was there the whole session, and he and I lived in the same house. They took over a fraternity house there and those who had come without their wives lived together in this fraternity house there, during that whole summer.

Sherwin: You happen to remember what fraternity it was?

DuBridge: No. It was a fraternity house not far from the campus, not far from the physics building, just a short walk over to the physics building. He was giving a series of lectures on quantum theory. I was just interested in listening to them because there were several distinguished people there, [Léon] Brillouin and Oppenheimer and [Edward] Condon and others. 

So it was a great occasion. It was a very jolly occasion. It was not a large group. We would have our parties and picnics and swimming sessions together. That is where I first got acquainted with Bob Bacher, too, or at least got better acquainted with him. I had seen him there when I was also there in ’29 and Bacher was there as a graduate student.

Sherwin: About twenty people?

DuBridge: Probably more like forty, I would think. In any particular seminar there might be only twenty. There were several going on, and not everybody went to all the sessions.

Sherwin: What were your impressions of Oppenheimer’s lectures?

DuBridge: Oh well, of course it was way above my head. I was more concerned with quantum statistics and theory of metals, but Robert was talking really about quantum mechanics of atomic structure and the general development of quantum mechanics. I went to some but not all of his lectures.

He was not an impressive lecturer. He did not talk very loudly. He had a very, very quiet voice and rambled along. And yet there was something about his lectures that was very fascinating because you had a feeling that here he was really thoroughly immersed in these new ideas, then still new ideas, of quantum mechanics. They came easily to him, naturally.

By the same token, it means that it was sometimes hard for the rest of us less familiar to catch on. There were a number of people attending his seminar that really had no background in quantum theory and they were completely lost. Not only in Oppie’s lectures, but in some of the others, too. But I enjoyed being with him. We were in the same house and we had many arresting times and talks together, individually and with the group that was there. I cannot remember who else was there now, in that house. When we got together that summer and I first ran into him, we greeted each other like friends. We had met at Physical Society meetings and here at Pasadena and other places, and I say he had also been I think briefly at the session in 1929. That was 1934. 

Sherwin: I am very interested in the Michigan summer school as an episode in the history of physics. I am going to be out in Michigan next week, so I would like to—

DuBridge: Have you talked to Bacher about it?

Sherwin: Yes I have, and I understand that a group would sometimes go out to Bacher’s mother’s house.

DuBridge: That is right, yes, we would go out there for picnics and swimming parties. [George] Uhlenbeck was another who was there and [Samuel] Goudsmit. I guess they both were in Michigan at that time.

As a matter of fact, that summer of 1934, my wife spent most of the summer with her family in Iowa while I was at Ann Arbor, but she came to Ann Arbor about the end of the seminar. We rented a little cottage just two doors from the Bachers’ little cottage, on a little lake there near about fifteen or twenty miles west of Ann Arbor. So we saw the Bachers there, too. But also there were groups going out to the Bachers’ house for swimming parties and picnics and so on. As I say, it was a jolly group. There were other places to go swimming around there, and we had many picnics where we would go swimming at one of the lakes.

Sherwin: What was the attraction of this Michigan summer school? Was this sort of the most active activity for physics in the country during the summer for a period of years?

DuBridge: Well, it was really a symposium on theoretical physics. You would see people like Oppenheimer and Condon and Uhlenbeck and Brillouin and a number of others. Of course, this was just when quantum mechanics was really developing, and so a large share of the discussion centered around lectures in the field of quantum mechanics.  

Sherwin: Who supported this? Was it Rockefeller money?

DuBridge: I have no idea. I really have no idea.

Sherwin: Was your way paid for?

DuBridge: No, we paid our own way. We paid our travel expenses. There was not any tuition charges, I recall. In other words, we did not have to pay to go to the lectures. But we paid so much a week for our room at the fraternity house and we had to take care of our meals. As a matter of fact, the first summer I was there, my wife went with me and also a friend of mine who was at Washington University, Vladimir Rojansky, and his wife.  We shared an apartment, the four of us, near the campus and lived together. We were entirely on our own expenses. 

They got such a sparkling group of active theoretical physicists and it was a very attractive—in those days, if you were teaching at a university, you did not have anything to do during the summer. At least, you did not earn any money during the summer, and either you had to get a job [laughter] and earn some money, or if you did not get a job, this was a good, fruitful way to spend the summer.

Sherwin: Somebody must have been organizing it and somebody must have been paid something.

DuBridge: Oh yes, well, I am sure they paid the lecturers who came like Oppenheimer and so on. I am sure they paid them a stipend. I do not think it was a very handsome one, probably, in those days. But I am sure they were paid, because they gave lectures for six weeks.

Sherwin: So everybody was not lecturing to each other?

DuBridge: Oh no, there was a faculty group of maybe a half a dozen. Plus there would be sometimes a visitor who would come in and lecture for a week or two and give a series of seminars for a week or two. But the others stayed there the whole six weeks. So there was, I would say, six or eight principal lecturers. They were very informal lectures. They were seminars, and as I say, would be only from fifteen to thirty in each group, so there was a good deal of discussion and informality.

Sherwin: Did it go on all day, or were these lectures confined to the morning?

DuBridge: I think they went both morning and afternoon but not out far in the afternoon, because the later latter part of the afternoon, if you wanted to keep up these lecturers, you also had to do the reading [laughter] and some studying. So there was time for that, as well as time for recreation. It was mostly in the morning, but I think there were afternoon lectures, too. One-thirty or two o’clock, and then probably free from three o’clock on. I do not remember.

Sherwin: Would you say that in your development, or in other people’s development, that this was an important—?

DuBridge: It was very important for me personally, because I went to Washington University in 1928 from Caltech, after my research fellowship was over. The head of the department at Washington University was Arthur Hughes. He had just started writing a book on the photoelectric effect, and that is what I had been working on through my Ph.D. thesis and at Caltech.

Shortly after I got there, he said that he had written a book on photoelectricity many years before, but it was way, way out of date. Shortly after I got there, he showed me the sort of introductory chapter to the book and asked me to look it over and make comments, which I did. Then he said, “Why don’t we go together on this and you could be a joint author?” Well, this was quite a challenge. And yet, I was absolutely attracted. I loved Dr. Hughes very much, and I knew working with him would be an inspiration and a pleasure. So I gladly agreed. Well, then the summer of ’29, I went to Ann Arbor, then there were lectures on the quantum theory of metals, which was just what I needed in connection with the book, the theory of the photoelectric effect.

Sherwin: Did Oppenheimer lecture on that?

DuBridge: No. I do not remember Oppenheimer lecturing that summer in ‘29. But I do remember him in ‘34. By 1934, the book was written.

Sherwin: He was really doing straight quantum mechanics anyway.

DuBridge: Yes. The theory of metals was based around the Sommerfeld Theory and Fermi-Dirac statistics of electrons and metals. We were just beginning to realize that the Fermi statistics and Sommerfeld Theory of metals explained many things about the photoelectric effect that had been somewhat mysterious before, and it clarified a lot of things. This was an important part of our book, was to write the theory of that. By 1934 when I went back, the book was published, but it was published at a time when we had not fully tested the theories of the photoelectric effect that had been proposed, actually, by R. H. Fowler. But I had undertaken quite a long series of experimental tests at Washington University.

Sherwin: R. H. Fowler? That is not Willy Fowler?

DuBridge: No, this is a British R. H.  Fowler, who was visiting at Wisconsin for a year in about 1929 or ’30. I started my photoelectric work at Wisconsin when I was a graduate student there, and they were still working on the photoelectric effect. R. H. Fowler got interested in it. Then he said that maybe applying—using the Fermi statistics would explain some of the things about the photoelectric effect and he worked out a theory, which was extremely successful.

I did some more tests and extended the theory to cover other situations and so on, including temperature effects and things like that. I was still working on that when I went to Rochester but on my way to Rochester I stopped at the Ann Arbor seminar. I was completing another book, a small little book, on theories of the photoelectric effect. I actually did most of the completion of that book there at Ann Arbor. It was nice to have some of these people around that I could then talk with about it, and some of their lectures were applicable to it. So that was a valuable summer session; it gave me a chance to complete that little book. 

Sherwin: That is very good and very interesting.

DuBridge: It was a very popular place to go all through the late ‘20s and up until the war, for just a refresher and getting acquainted with people. Not only the lecturers, but the other visitors because there were a lot of physicists around the country that went there. There was already a very warm and friendly feeling among physicists then. There were not many of us. We all knew each other.

Sherwin: One of the things that I am impressed with—and in a sense, this is true of all the academic disciplines before the war, as compared to now—simply because they were smaller, but especially physics, is how close-knit people were.

DuBridge: That is true.

Sherwin: That it was not only an international fraternity, but certainly nationally. People knew each other. They knew their work well.

DuBridge: That is right, yes.

Sherwin: They saw each other quite a lot.

DuBridge: It was just a lovely fraternity. You see, there were two exciting areas going on then. First was the quantum mechanics and second there was nuclear physics. The cyclotron was just coming into use and people were excited about the nuclear disintegration experiments, which were going, so the cyclotroneers had a kind of a little informal—it was an exciting time, and it was especially exciting because with those fields, you were almost forced to enjoy working together. When I got to Rochester, we built a cyclotron there, and there was a cyclotron group at Michigan and one at Cornell and of course the Berkeley group, and then later went one at Pittsburgh. The people in nuclear physics were just calling each other and writing each other and, of course, publishing. At meetings, we would just assemble, “How did you find out about the disintegration of so-and-so? And what about that radioactivity?” And so on.

It was a complete exchange and a rapid exchange of information, a complete cooperation. I was impressed that that kind of cooperation did not exist in some other fields of science. I got acquainted with some biologists, and they were very secretive about their work. They did not want Jones over at Harvard to know about what they were doing, because they wanted to get it out first. I never saw that in physics.

Sherwin: Why was that?

DuBridge: I do not know.

Sherwin: For example, historians are certainly not like the physicists of those times, but that is in a sense the nature of the discipline. That is to say, that you are alone with your book.  

DuBridge: That is right.

Sherwin: We all talk to each other about theory and argue about different interpretations. But the fact is, it’s not by nature cooperative. It takes effort. But biology should be cooperative.

DuBridge: It is now, I think, but I do not know. The genetic engineering is sticking its head into it. I was just impressed with them. Even some very good friends of mine in biology at Washington University had this idea of hanging on to what they were doing, without letting it be known until they were ready to publish it. But in physics, as soon as we at Rochester would get some new nuclear disintegration reaction and checking on it, we knew that Michigan might be working on the same thing or a related one. We would write or call or talk to them in meetings to compare notes.

Sherwin: Even before you would—?

DuBridge: Yes, oh yes.

Sherwin: Do you think it had something to do with the leadership in the field?

DuBridge: I think so. I think that is a good point. Ernest Lawrence, for example, who kind of sparked the nuclear physics experimentation, the cyclotron, he was very anxious to have cyclotrons every place. He is the one that persuaded us to build one at Rochester. He was there visiting and said, “You ought to have a cyclotron here. There is so much to be done.” 

I said, “By golly, I don’t think we could afford it, and I don’t know where we’d put it.”

He said, “Let’s look around.” We looked around and by golly, down in the basement where I had forgotten about it, there was a great big kind of a storage room that was not being used for much in particular. He said, “There’s an ideal place for a cyclotron.” [Laughter] So he said, “We’ll help you.”

He invited me to come up to Berkeley for a summer and also my chief associate there, Sidney Barnes, and I spent time at Berkeley, and they helped us enormously. Then a local group came along and helped us get financing. We did not need much money, by modern standards. I think we only have to raise three or four thousand dollars [laughter] to build a cyclotron. We scrounged a lot of equipment. The local Edison Company gave us a motor generator set and some transformers, and a local steel company gave us a really good price on machining the steel for the magnet, and so on. The Bell Telephone Laboratories gave us a couple of big power oscillator tubes.

I do not think we needed anything from Kodak, that I recall.  Kodak was very cooperative in our physics work generally, and especially one of the men in our department was doing some of the first studies of tracks of alpha particles and photographic plates, and that was a new idea then. But Kodak furnished a lot of—

Sherwin: [Victor] Weisskopf was at Rochester, too?

DuBridge: Yes, he came there while I was there, yes. I brought him over from—he was in Denmark. Niels Bohr was visiting us at Rochester.

Sherwin: Were you the chairman of the department at Rochester?

DuBridge: Yes, beginning 1934. Niels Bohr was there, and we had had a theoretical physicist who had left and gone on, and so when Bohr was there I said, “Look, we need a theoretical physicist. Do you know somebody?”

He said, “Gee, there’s a great guy in Copenhagen now, Victor Weisskopf.” He said, “I think he might like to come to this country.” You see, then things were not good for the Jewish people in Europe. And so Viki accepted right away. One of my great achievements was to bring Viki Weisskopf to this country.

Sherwin: Now in terms of the social relations at Michigan, can you remember any evenings or afternoons with Oppenheimer, something that would help me give a little flesh on the bones of the activity that took place there?

DuBridge: Well, first place I should emphasize that there was no politics in physics then. So if we talked or were visiting, it was either just purely personal, family. It was just purely personal and family, but mostly it was physics that we were talking about. And physics and physicists, except just the ordinary talk men would have when they got together at a picnic or a social occasion. No, it was just a warm, friendly—and Oppenheimer, of course, had many interests outside of physics. Sometimes his discussions were about Sanskrit poetry or whatever would be enthralling to some of us to whom this was a wholly different world.

So we talked about international affairs in the sense of international science and what was going on in the world. I do not remember at that time that we were, at ‘34, yet quite concerned about the situation with the Hitlerite business, although we certainly knew about it, but I do not recall that that was an urgent topic of conversation then. 

Sherwin: Were there urgent topics of conversation?

DuBridge: Hmm?

Sherwin: Were there urgent topics of conversation?

DuBridge: I do not recall, other than what was happening in physics. [Laughter] To us, that was the most urgent and exciting thing going on, to physics and physicists, what they were doing. The library at Ann Arbor, the fiscal review, communal, and everybody would pore over that, and nature and science abstracts and so on. We were keeping up with what was going on.

Sherwin: How would you describe him in relation to the other lecturers? You have already talked about his less than sterling presentation in terms of his lecture style, but beyond the lecture hall, in terms of these groups, was he always the center of attention?

DuBridge: Not always the center of attention. He was one of the centers. But there were a number of people there. At that time, Oppie had not attained the fame he later did, of course, but he was well-known for what he had done in theoretical physics, and was respected for his knowledge of the theory. There were others. Condon was one of the most charming and delightful physicists and was enjoyed, and so was Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck. Oppie stood up in that crowd, but I do not recall that he stood out any more than some of the others. He was charming. He was much more widely read and cultivated than most of the rest of us. Often we would admire his knowledge about other things, when we got into talking about them. But he was not the center of attention. He was one of several.

Sherwin: Let us push on. I suppose the next major moment is the war, unless there was something between, let us see, this ‘34 summer school and 1941.

DuBridge: I do not remember of any special contacts with Oppie during that period. No, I do not remember any special contact with him. I have forgotten whether he visited Rochester while I was there or not.

Sherwin: I think after the war—I have come across something in his papers at the University of Rochester, and I cannot place the date now. I think it may have been a talk he gave there.

DuBridge: After the war, maybe. Yes.

Sherwin: You became the director of the Radiation Laboratory in 19—?

DuBridge: 1940.

Sherwin: 1940. He was involved by about ‘41, ‘42, under Compton’s supervision, I suppose, or really inspired by Compton, Arthur Compton, asking him to undertake some theoretical work. He really gets involved with the Manhattan Project in a serious way in the summer of ‘42 and in ’43, he—

DuBridge: Went to Los Alamos, yes.

Sherwin: I have seen some correspondence—he was essentially raiding the Rad Lab. [Robert] Bacher—

DuBridge: Yes, [Kenneth] Bainbridge, [Luis] Alvarez. That is right. It was actually Jim Conant who was following the Manhattan Project for the OSRD [Office of Scientific Research and Development].

Sherwin: Yes, he was sort of administratively in charge.

DuBridge: Yes, and I remember Conant called me one time, he said, “Look, you know, we’ve got to get some more people at Los Alamos.” I knew what was going on. He said especially they would like to have—

Sherwin: You knew the purpose of the Manhattan Project?

DuBridge: Yes. So he says, “You have got some good nuclear physicists there at the Rad Lab. Can’t you let Los Alamos have some of them?”

I said, “Who are you talking about?”

He said, “Bacher, Bainbridge.”

I said, “Gee, we hate to lose them, but it’s up to them. You approach them and if they feel that that’s the place they ought to go, we won’t stand in their way. We have no right to interfere with what they want to do.”

So Bacher and Bainbridge both decided to go. Later Alvarez did. Alvarez first went to Chicago to work under Arthur Compton. And he was unhappy there and came back in about three weeks and said, “Things are so disorganized there, I just couldn’t work.”

Sherwin: Is this before the [Enrico] Fermi experiment in December ’42?

DuBridge: No, after.

Sherwin: That was after.

DuBridge: Yes.

Sherwin: Well, the major Chicago work had been done once that was complete.

DuBridge: Yes.

Sherwin: And Chicago was really looking for something to do, in a sense.

DuBridge: Well, they were still working on a good many things. Of course, Fermi went off to Hanford and later to Los Alamos, but many of the Chicago people followed to watch the work at Hanford and the reactor development there. I guess I did not know too much about what was going on in Chicago. But anyway, there was no argument about any of the Rad Lab people that wanted to go to Los Alamos. They went.

Sherwin: Did you ever visit as a visiting fireman or anything?

DuBridge: Los Alamos?

Sherwin: Yes.

DuBridge: Yes. Well, the occasion I remember most vividly must have been in early ‘45. Oppie said that they were running into some problems on some electronic control equipment, and also they were running into problems in making contact with various manufacturers who they might contract to manufacture bit and pieces of things they needed. He knew that we had had a lot of experience at the Rad Lab, and we started out very early in getting manufacturers into the picture to develop and manufacture the radar that we were developing. He wanted advice, both on some people to help on the electronic side and people to help on the administrative problems of contacting manufacturers. He said, “Why don’t you come out?” I do not know whether he suggested or I suggested I bring Zacharias, Jerrold Zacharias, with me.

We went out. I think Bacher happened to be visiting the Rad Lab at that time and we decided to fly out together. I had a priority one, he had a priority two, so he got bumped on the way out. I got to Los Alamos before Bob did. I spent several days there with Zacharias in their guest house. We had a lot of occasions there, and Oppie and Bacher and the others showed me completely all they were doing.

Sherwin: What was your impression of Oppenheimer at that time?

DuBridge: Well, I had an enormous admiration for him. Bacher had visited us a number of times because he found that there were things at the Rad Lab that he did not know about, about some of the electronic circuits and so on. He would come back and talk to the people about it, in order to carry it back to Los Alamos. He had previously remarked what a great job Oppie was doing in running the Los Alamos enterprise. I think Oppie visited the Radiation Lab, too, during those periods. And maybe partly to talk to possible prospects for going out, but partly to see what was going on and how we were organized and that sort of thing. So I went out and spent two, three days there.

Sherwin: What was his physical condition like and all that?

DuBridge: Well, he always seemed to be frail. He had had tuberculosis as a young man and he never really got over weak lungs. He frequently had a very bad cough, and yet it did not seem to interfere with his figure at all and running Los Alamos. He was there in everything and knew everything that was going on and was right in the middle of it. He took me around the lab, he could tell me the details of all the things that were going on there.

Sherwin: What is one example that was interesting?

DuBridge: Well, we looked at everything. We looked at the way in which they were testing decompressability of plutonium, for example, to see how much it would compress under particular forces, to see if it compressed to critical mass. Bacher was doing a lot of that and I think he was the one that showed me that. But it was quite obvious that Oppie knew everything about it, too. I do not think there was anything that went on in the lab of any significance that Oppie was not fully familiar with and knew what was going on.

Sherwin: And this is really an extraordinary achievement.

DuBridge: Exactly, exactly, yes, he just had a grasp of things. He could get things so fast. He could read a paper—I saw this many times when we were on the General Advisory Committee together. A paper would come for the GAC to just look at and discuss and comment on. We read fifty or twenty pages, typed pages. He said, “Well, let’s look this over and we’ll talk about it.” So he would do this.

Sherwin: Just flip the pages.

DuBridge: And in about five minutes, he said, “Well, I think I got the gist of this now. I’ll tell you about it.” So he would brief the thing, tell us exactly the important points that were in it and the important issues that we should discuss. The rest of us had not gotten more beyond the third or fourth page by the [laughter] time he closed it and said he could tell us about it, and he could.

He had a remarkable ability to absorb things so rapidly either in talking or in reading, listening or reading. I just admire his ability to grasp things quickly and accurately and then to repeat, summarize, and bring out the gist of it and the essential features.

Sherwin: This trip to Los Alamos in ‘45, it was not for anything more specific than getting through another tangle of problems that existed at the moment?

DuBridge: Well, Oppie apparently thought that if I saw what was going on there and saw the problems they were working on, that I might be able to suggest people from the Rad Lab that could help them on this or that. As a matter of fact, Zacharias, who got interested in some of the things going on, spent a good little time—he did not leave the Rad Lab to go out, but he spent a good little time consulting with them after that.

Sherwin: Was this consulting by phone? By letter?

DuBridge: Well, by visit.

Sherwin: By visit.

DuBridge: You could not do much on the phone.

Sherwin: How did people fly out there?

DuBridge: Well, there were commercial—

Sherwin: Logan Airport? 

DuBridge: Yes, sure.

Sherwin: Chicago?

DuBridge: I think we probably went American Airlines, way of Chicago into Santa Fe or Albuquerque. They would meet us at the airport with a Los Alamos car.

Sherwin: How long did it take? The reason I am interested in this is that he did a fair amount of traveling—you all did—and today it is such a different thing. You get on and it is nice and quiet. Six hours, you are coast to coast. There are flights going everywhere. Nevertheless, it is wearing if you do a lot of traveling, and that is so simple. Back then, I am old enough to have remembered flying in prop planes and when I was in the Navy, I was in the Naval Air Force, and we flew submarine warfare prop planes. And boy, after ten or twelve hours in these things—

DuBridge: I know, they were all—DC-3s were the only passenger planes flying then practically. It was several hours from Boston to Albuquerque, seven or eight hours, and usually several stops in between. So no, it was not an easy trip. But at the same time, it was so much faster than a train that we thought it was great, because the train would have taken several days. I do not remember what the schedules were, but it seemed to me that we could leave Boston in the morning and be in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, late that afternoon, something like that.

Sherwin: And it was not particularly arduous?

DuBridge: No, in fact I enjoyed flying. No, I thought it was great. [Laughter]

Sherwin: I suppose the period of your major relationship is the postwar period?

DuBridge: Yes.

Sherwin: You were a member of the GAC?

DuBridge: Yes, Oppie was chairman and I was one of the members, along with Conant and Rabi and [Enrico] Fermi. Bacher, of course, was on the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission], commissioner.

Sherwin: The first meeting was in ‘47 and Oppenheimer resigned in ‘52. Did you stay on until ‘52?

DuBridge: ‘52.

Sherwin: But anyway—

DuBridge: I think I had a six-year term. 

Sherwin: So it is the same thing.

DuBridge: Yes. Oppenheimer and I retired at the same time. We both had a six-year term. I think Bacher arranged the terms of the GAC, because it was a scientific group and he was more acquainted with the scientists than the other members of the Commission. He, I think, specifically arranged that Oppie and I and Rabi would have six-year terms. Maybe somebody else in there were four-year terms. But the four year terms were subject to renewal, in that initial staggering. Some were renewed and some decided not to go up for a second term. Yes, so Oppie and I, I guess, were on the GAC for six years together.

(Photo of DuBridge courtesy of AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Gallery of Member Society Presidents, Physics Today Collection.)