Oral-History:Ernst Weber (1988)
About Ernst Weber
Ernst Weber was born in Vienna, Austria in 1901. The impact of his family influenced him greatly in learning about and later choosing a career in the sciences. After graduating from college and earning his engineering diploma in 1924, he began to work for the Siemens Corporation. Here he worked on a series of projects including conformal mapping and solving problems within the mining industry. At this time he continued with his education and received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1927. His dissertation topic was to find why deviations in electronic charges occur and resolving the discrepancy between Ehrenhafts' experiments and Millikan's theory.
Weber eventually left Germany because of the rise of Nazism and came to the U.S. Here he became an educator along with being a scientist. His interest in the educational systems and specifically the differences between an American approach from a European design led him to teach and prepare future engineers in new ways. His work in this area eventually led to his being named President of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Though his impact on education was considerable--he helped train a generation of Americans at Polytechnic--he continued to do research, notably on efforts involved with radar. During World War II he was chairman of the Basic Science Group of AlEE and later joined MIT's Rad Lab. Since this time he has worked closely with his graduate students on a series of American corporations on developing radar and related projects, including Airborne Instrument Laboratories, Corning Glass, Sperry, Harris-Intertype, Hewlett-Packard. He also established he Polytechnic Research Development Corporation, later sold to Harris-Intertype in 1959.
In 1952 he organized the Microwave symposia and became President of IRE in 1959. He resigned as President of Polytechnic in 1969. He joined the Advisory Committee for the Division of Engineering of the National Research Council and later became its chairman. He worked here until 1978. He was also involved in centralizing the engineering societies in the U.S. After Polytechnic he began to study and work with organizations concerned with such diverse topics as limiting automobile pollution and predicting earthquakes. Weber continued to work as a volunteer for IEEE through the 1970s and 1980s.
The interview begins with a discussion of the impetus toward early contact between AIEE and IRE--namely, the development during WWII of service systems which made large machine control through electronics possible. Weber goes on to recount Pat Haggerty's inquiry as to Weber's interest in being IEEE's first president. He discusses the multitude of problems and complications concerning the status of professional groups and societies during and after the merger. The interview continues with a discussion of the initial goals of IEEE, particularly in creating an integrated organization, the question of publication, and the search for a general manager. Weber comments upon his commitment to the concept of "scientific engineering," particularly in the context of his early teaching experiences in the United States. This leads to a discussion of Weber and Segar's report on physics and engineering education in the 1950s and the eventual revision of pre-college physics textbooks. The interview then turns to a discussion of professionalization within engineering. Here, Weber discusses the various roles of NSPE, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the NRC and the EJC. The interview concludes with comments on the US Activities Board, the changing public perception of engineers, and the relationship between status and education and professionalization within engineering.