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Interview with Robert F. Bacher, 1981-06-09 - 1983-02-23


Scope and Contents

An interview in ten sessions, 1981 and 1983, with Robert F. Bacher, chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy (1949-1962), Caltech's first provost (1962-1969), and professor of physics, emeritus. He recalls his education at the University of Michigan and graduate work in physics at Harvard (1926-27) and Michigan, where he got to know J. R. Oppenheimer and the European physicists who joined the faculty and/or came for the summer sessions in physics: Goudsmit, Uhlenbeck, Fermi, Bohr, Ehrenfest, Dirac and others. Recalls postdoc year at Caltech (1930-31) working on atomic spectra; Oppenheimer's lectures; Millikan's cosmic-ray work. Spends 1931-1932 at MIT working with John Slater; Chadwick's discovery of the neutron. Spends the next two years as a postdoc at Michigan, working with Goudsmit. Instructorship at Columbia, 1934; association with I. I. Rabi. Moves to Cornell in 1935; recollections of Hans Bethe; cyclotron work on neutron energies. Early 1941, joins the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, of which Lee DuBridge was director. Recalls start of Manhattan Engineer District; contacts with J. R. Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. Joins Los Alamos in June 1943 as head of experimental physics division; recollections of bomb work. Returns to Cornell in January 1946. Postwar development of high-energy physics; Acheson-Lilienthal Report on international control of atomic energy. Establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, fall 1946; he becomes a commissioner; moves to Washington, D.C. Recalls weapons testing in the Pacific and the development of nuclear reactors. In 1949, he becomes chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy at Caltech. Called back to Washington to testify at Hickenlooper hearings; warns the British about Klaus Fuchs. Discusses the postwar buildup of physics at Caltech; comments on the mathematics and astronomy departments. Debate over tactical vs. strategic nuclear weapons. Service on President's Science Advisory Committee; the McCarthy era; comments on his service as Caltech provost. Comments on establishment of Fermilab; participation in the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. Recalls advent of Harold Brown as Caltech president in 1969; comments on reorganization of NASA contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Comments on current setup of Caltech's Faculty Board and on his own activities since his retirement.


  • 1981-06-09 - 1983-02-23



73 computer files : audio and transcript

2 books : 215 pages

9 sound cassettes


Repository Details

Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository

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