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Moving Into the Real World
In my last column, I left my neighbors recovering from Irene's wrath, still without power. Their power finally came on after 7 days without it. I didn't know when I wrote that column that the house next door to the one whose occupants found a tree in their bedroom also had a tree fall on it days after Irene departed. There's still a blue tarp on that house as I post this column. Spurred by these falling trees so near our house, I had a large oak tree taken down in our front yard. It was a leaner, not leaning towards our house, but would have taken down a power line and could have killed someone, including me or my wife.
Before turning back to my memoirs, I must indulge my passion for finding my roots by noting a discovery that may fill in a chapter in the evolution of us Homo sapiens. This discovery, published in five papers in the September 9 issue of Science, is a 2 million -year-old fossil, Australopithecus sediba. What's so interesting about A. sediba? It lived at a time a couple hundred thousand years before the first fossils that enter into the Homo category. It has features found in both the earlier Australopithecus fossils but also has features that are found in the later Homo fossils, say Homo erectus. The researchers apparently don't like the term "missing link" but say that A. sediba appears to be a "transitional" form between Australopithecus types such as the famed Lucy and the later first definitive Homo that eventually gave rise to us modern humans. As is almost always the case with any paleontological finding, there is already controversy arising as to the interpretation of the place this fossil has in the evolution of our us humans but it seems to be agreed that it's a very significant fossil.
But this finding pales in significance with a report out of CERN that, if true, signals a major upset in the world of physics. You've probably heard or read in the media that scientists at CERN, which houses the famed Large Hadron Collider, have been shooting beams of neutrinos some 730 kilometers (454 miles) down to a lab deep underground in Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory. Neutrinos are those pesky tiny particles that can travel unimpeded through just about anything and as we speak zillions are passing through your body and mine. Neutrinos also come in at least three different flavors and some can transform from one flavor to another in flight. The so-called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) experiment was set up to study the flight of neutrinos and the various behaviors that occur during flight.
To my knowledge, OPERA was not set up to test Einstein's theory that says nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. But CERN has just come out with measurements that indicate that neutrinos have traveled from CERN to Gran Sasso faster than the speed of light. They claim to have worked with experts in the field and with GPS and atomic clocks to measure the 730 kilometer path to an accuracy of 20 centimeters, less than a foot. For a neutrino, the trip between the two labs takes about 3 thousandths of a second. The scientists measure the speed of the neutrinos as being 60 billionths of a second faster than the speed of light. That's a mere 20 parts per million more than the speed of light but hey, anything the least bit higher than the speed of light would throw the scientific community into an uproar. To their credit, the scientists involved in OPERA are putting their results out there asking for others to repeat their experiments to either confirm or refute their finding. I personally feel there must be some hidden source of error but I'm certainly not an authority in such deep physical pursuits.
OK, back to life at Bell Labs. When last we met, my colleagues Ralph Logan and Harry White had put red LEDs in a real phone hooked into the Bell System. This prompted the development area at Bell Labs to mount a major effort to develop LEDs for manufacture by Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of the Bell System Those were the days when the Bell System employed a million people and, with a few exceptions, provided almost all the phone service in the USA. Carl Thurmond was appointed director of a division in the development area with the responsibility to provide the gallium phosphide p-n junction material to a device division that would make the LED devices.
You may recall that Thurmond was instrumental in my being hired at Bell Labs and he asked me to supervise a group that would grow the crystals and form the p-n junctions for the device area. At first, I was reluctant to leave the research area and go into development. It would mean giving up the freedom to do whatever I wanted and also losing the opportunity to publish scientific papers. And, frankly, there was a feeling among many in the research area that development ranked a cut below research in the intellectual scheme of things. Yes, you might call it snobbery. I was soon to find that the real world of development presented quite enough in the way of intellectual challenges, not to mention the challenges inherent in the interactions of large groups of people!
Before taking the new job, I consulted with Ad White, the one who almost fired me! Ad said that I would now have to get my satisfaction and rewards from the achievements of the members of my group and gave me a gentle push to accept the new position. One thing that helped me make my decision was that I could take with me Linc Derick to run what we called a models lab to grow the gallium phosphide. Linc was a superb experimentalist, a hard-as-nails former fighter pilot in World War II, who would run a tight ship with the models lab workers. We also shared a love of golf.
My new department head was Larry Varnerin, a very pleasant fellow and a great boss for me in a new environment as a group supervisor. I also brought with me my assistant Mike Kowalchik, who would end up working with one of the more interesting members of my group, Andrew Jordan. Andrew was a refugee from the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956. He was a free spirit who tended not to conform to rigid schedules and my first management test came when Frank Biondi, a director in another area, complained that he kept seeing Andrew arrive for work two hours or so after the official starting time. Coming from the research area, where we had our share of free spirits who didn't keep normal hours, I didn't try to change Andrew's habits and was glad I didn't. He proved to be a solid contributor along theoretical lines to the LED effort and to the theory of crystal growth.
Coincidentally, another Hungarian refugee was my "customer" for my group's materials. Arpad Bergh was a supervisor in the device area to whose group we supplied the GaP materials for them to make their LEDs. When I was in research we had achieved at the time the world's most efficient red LEDs. We had achieved 2 percent efficiency based on the number of photons out compared to the number of electrons in. Any feeling that I might have had about the relative simplicity of development compared to research was soon gone. It took us months, maybe a year, before we managed to achieve LED material of that efficiency in our development effort. I also learned what might be a universal truth. The customer is never totally happy with the supplier's product. In our case, the device people always wanted more and better material to work with.
Another source of conflict should have been apparent from the start. Our materials area was hiring or including physicists and others to evaluate and theorize about the properties of our gallium phosphide materials. Our device area customers also had their own personnel dedicated to the same thing! Over time, the overlapping of efforts led to conflict that turned some friends into enemies. But that was to be in the future - first, let's have fun.
For me, and my family, one way to have fun is to travel and being a supervisor gave me the opportunity to make my first trip to Europe in the summer of 1968. On that trip, I visited a number of companies and presented a paper on the growth of gallium phosphide from solution at the International Conference on Crystal Growth in Birmingham, England. By adding 3 weeks of vacation time to 3 weeks on business, my wife and sons Harry and Brian, our cartoonist and editor on stocksandnews.com, enjoyed their first experience across the pond. My brother Conrad and his family happened to be in the UK at the time and my family got to experience life in a suburb of London while I was on the road at the conference and visiting companies.
One experience that lives in my memory about that trip involved one of the activities at the crystal growth conference. It was an evening at the theater in Stratford-upon-Avon to see a performance of Dr. Faustus. I had seen mention of this somewhat controversial version of the play in the London newspapers. In the play, one of the vices was portrayed by a totally nude woman completely painted in gold walking across the stage. Sitting next to me in the audience were two Russian (Soviet) crystal growers, Alexander Chernov and a fellow named Bagdasarov, whose first name I've forgotten.
Chernov was an ebullient guy with a great sense of humor while Bagdasarov was much more reserved and was, we speculated, Chernov's "minder" who made sure he didn't stray from the fold. After the play we all left the theater and went through the streets of Shakespeare's old haunts signing. (I'm a terrible singer.) In those days of the Cold War it was quite an experience for me to socialize with our Communist friends. Sometime later, Chernov and Bagdasarov happened to visit Bell Labs on the day after the USSR had landed one of their space probes on the moon and I, having taken Russian in a Bell Labs out-of-hours course, was proud to greet them in Russian saying, "I congratulate you on landing on the moon."
After the UK, we first went to Amsterdam, where, leaving our sons asleep in their room, my wife and I decided to check out the famed legal red light district. I was somewhat uncomfortable as we walked through it with the ladies of the evening displaying their charms and thought we should go back to the hotel after completing a walk through the district. My wife, surprisingly to me, was fascinated by the scene and insisted on going around once more. The rest of the trip involved the usual first-time-tourist destinations with France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria on the itinerary. I remember in Copenhagen we were walking through Tivoli Gardens one night and there was a crowd gathered around to hear a young singer who didn't impress us particularly and we walked away without even hearing him sing a complete song. His name was Tom Jones!
Of course, the scenery was spectacular, with one of our stays in Switzerland being at a hotel in Grindelwald with a stunning view of the Eiger. But one of the longest lasting memories is of our time at the Hotel Kobenzl overlooking Salzburg in Austria. Aside from the Sound of Music scenery and the ambiance, it was at the Kobenzl that we met an artist from New Jersey who did drawings of our two sons that we still have hanging in our home. We also made friends there with a couple with whom we still correspond over 40 years later and we've gotten together with them in New York and at their home in Massachusetts.
Well, next month I'll get back to business and the LED story. Next column, hopefully, will be posted on or about November 1.