Last week, I joined my wife’s theater group to see “Jersey Boys”,
the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons singing group so
popular decades ago. While I was aware of the group and their
unique sound, highlighted by Valli’s falsetto voice, my music
was more of the Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra/Perry Como era.
However, I have never been in a more enthusiastic audience,
screaming and cheering after many of the songs in the play. (The
overall age of the audience did seem to be a decade or so
younger than yours truly.) The play is reputedly true to life in
portraying the less than saintly backgrounds of those members of
the group who grew up in tough neighborhoods in New Jersey.
The rough language and ambiance of Jersey Boys contrasted
with our Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of its musical
version of the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, which we
saw a few days earlier. Yes, the angel Clarence did get his wings
and they were quite an impressive pair at that!
Speaking of life, I can’t ignore a paper by Michael Malin and co-
workers in the December 8 issue of Science reporting the
possible existence of flowing water on Mars. The evidence is
based on photos taken from the Mars Orbital Camera on board
the Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting Mars for 10
years. A recent photo shows a light-toned deposit not present
several years earlier. The feature appears to be in a gully formed
by flowing water carrying sediment of some sort. If it is water
that somehow was ejected from beneath the surface of Mars, life
on the red planet is indeed a possibility. There is also the
possibility that the feature is due to wind and shifting sands on
Mars. We’ll have to wait and see.
In a Perspective in Science on this work, Richard Kerr notes that
the Mars Global Surveyor has “passed on”. Last month, NASA
has lost contact with the valiant spacecraft and apparently cannot
revive it. In my own life, the fun and frolic of the holiday season
has been tempered by the passings of a former close colleague
and three members of our Old Guard group. One of these was
Paul Wickliffe, a Bell Labs colleague and a member of the Old
Guard public address committee on which I serve. Paul and I
shared a love of Marco Island and we would get together with
our wives and sip a bourbon when there. I didn’t know Paul
when I worked at Bell Labs but find now that he was involved in
projects with far reaching implications for all of us.
For example, his obituary stated that Paul was charged with
designing, fabricating and operating a fiber optic system for
transmitting the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. In this
capacity, he was the first to transmit a TV signal over optical
fiber cable. Today, Verizon is among the companies installing
optical fiber cable networks in New Jersey and elsewhere in
efforts to compete with cable and satellite TV companies. Paul
also headed up a group involved in the Telstar communications
satellite program. In addition, he led a group that pioneered
telephone service aboard trains and came up with a system that
provided continuous service on the Metroliner trains through
Baltimore tunnels. Paul was 81.
When I was in the Research Area at Bell Labs, my most
rewarding and enjoyable project was working on light-emitting
diodes, LEDs. In particular, I savored almost daily interactions
with Ralph Logan and his assistant, Harry White. In this effort, I
was responsible, with the help of my assistant, Mike Kowalchik,
for the growth of gallium phosphide crystals containing the p-n
junctions needed for making diodes. Ralph was a physicist and
he and Harry fabricated the diodes and studied their properties. I
had also worked with them earlier on studies involving silicon
and germanium. We shared a dry sense of humor and enjoyed
trading barbs back and forth – when you’re the materials supplier
for the device maker, the materials are never good enough!
Well, they were good enough that Ralph and Harry made what at
the time were the world’s brightest red LEDs. Ralph decided to
take a Princess phone and wire it up with LEDs in each button on
the phone. He then placed the phone in service on what was then
the old Bell System. It created quite a stir and helped lead to a
decision to mount a development effort which led to manufacture
of LEDs by Western Electric, then part of the Bell System.
Strangely, one day last week for some reason, Ralph Logan came
to mind and I wondered what had become of him. I hadn’t seen
him for at least ten years but knew he had retired and moved to a
town on or near the Jersey shore. I also thought, “Gee, I’ll never
know if he’s alive or dead because we Bell Labs retirees no
longer get a Bell Labs news publication that used to list those
who had passed away.” Perhaps the thoughts were prompted by
the takeover of Lucent/Bell Labs by Alcatel. Sadly, I did not
need to worry. In this past Sunday’s Star-Ledger, there was the
obituary of Dr. Ralph Andre Logan, who died on December 1. It
was a fairly lengthy obituary and, sure enough, there was
mention of Ralph’s Princess phone lit by LEDs.
I hadn’t known that Ralph, after retiring from Bell Labs, spent
four years as a member of a NASA committee consulting on the
possibility of life on and travel to Mars. No doubt, that evidence
of possible flowing water on Mars would have intrigued him.
Had I known of his involvement, I would have tracked him down
when I was writing columns on the prospects of successfully
achieving a manned mission to Mars.
After the LED effort, Ralph went on to work on semiconductor
lasers and optical devices. In his work on lasers and optical
devices, he had to make his own materials and I used to tease
him that he was no longer a physicist. (I had moved to the
Development Area of Bell Labs to lead a group making materials
for the development of the LEDs.) Ralph adopted a much more
sophisticated approach to the growth of the optical materials and
was so successful that he was elected to the National Academy of
Science (Engineering) for his efforts, a high honor indeed.
Yesterday, after I had written this column, what should I see in
the Star-Ledger but another obituary on Ralph Logan, this one by
a staff writer, with a picture and a big bold headline “Ralph
Logan, 80, a star at Bell Labs”. A star he was. Oh, I almost
forgot, Ralph fathered nine children, was married to his wife Ann
for 56 years and was a gourmet chef! Ann is quoted as saying
the last ten years of Ralph’s retirement were “the happiest 10
years of his life.” I’m glad.
So, when you’re watching a satellite TV broadcast or using a
phone on a train, think of Paul Wickliffe. And when you pick up
a phone with LEDs, don’t forget Ralph Logan.
Allen F. Bortrum