Gerald J. Wasserburg Oral History Interview with David A. Valone
- 1995-04-25 - 1995-05-17
An interview in four sessions, in April and May 1995, with Gerald J. Wasserburg, John D. MacArthur Professor of Geology and Geophysics, emeritus, in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. After a stint in the U. S. Army, Dr. Wasserburg matriculated at Rutgers University, then the University of Chicago (BS 1951); graduate school at Chicago (MS 1952; PhD 1954). He joined the Caltech faculty as assistant professor of geology in 1955, becoming full professor in 1963 and MacArthur Professor in 1982. In this wide-ranging interview, he discusses growing up in New Jersey during the Depression, his early interest in crystals, his army service in WW II. At war’s end, he studied geology at Rutgers under the GI Bill. Prompted by Henri Bader, he transferred to the University of Chicago in 1948, where he also took courses in physics. He recalls the intellectual excitement there; comments on geochemistry and geophysics at Chicago and Caltech in early 1950s; work of Harold Urey, Harrison Brown, Clair Patterson, Samuel Epstein; his own work on natural gases and dating meteorites. Recalls blowing up his laboratory at Institute for Nuclear Studies. PhD work with Urey and Mark Inghram. Settling in as assistant professor at Caltech; difficulties building equipment. Conflicts with Patterson, Leon Silver, Charles McKinney. Continuing work on decay constants of natural gases and dating of meteorites; building of mass spectrometer Lunatic I. Recalls courses he taught; comments on geosciences curriculum at Caltech. Comments on Caltech colleagues Barclay Camb and Robert Sharp and difficulties with Silver over areas of study. Recollection of film project with Richard Feynman titled About Time. Concluding remarks on lack of “intellectual saints” in geology as opposed to other physical sciences.