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Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson

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This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
 
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
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Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
  
Ragnar Rollefson, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
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Ragnar Rollefson, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.  
  
 
== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
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I think that the most important thing I could say was summed up in that last statement.  
 
I think that the most important thing I could say was summed up in that last statement.  
  
[[Category:People_and_organizations|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Scientists|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Inventors|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Research_and_development_labs|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Culture_and_society|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&_security]] [[Category:Signals|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Signal_detection|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Radar_detection|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing|Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing]] [[Category:Radar|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]] [[Category:News|Oral-History:Ragnar Rollefson]]
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[[Category:People and organizations|Rollefson]] [[Category:Scientists|Rollefson]] [[Category:Inventors|Rollefson]] [[Category:Research and development labs|Rollefson]] [[Category:Engineering and society|Rollefson]] [[Category:Military applications|Rollefson]] [[Category:Signals|Rollefson]] [[Category:Signal detection|Rollefson]] [[Category:Radar detection|Rollefson]] [[Category:Environment|Rollefson]] [[Category:Radar|Rollefson]] [[Category:News|Rollefson]]

Latest revision as of 10:50, 29 July 2014

Contents

About Ragnar Rollefson

Rollefson got his BA, MS, and PhD in Physics from the University of Wisconsin, and taught there his entire career. He was recruited for the Rad Lab at the end of 1941. While there he worked on a “back of the dish” system until December 1942, and then on R&D on anti-jamming/countermeasures. Towards the end of the war he began work on the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system, and helped transform it into an Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEWACS), with control in the plane itself; he also helped transfer the project to Navy control after the war. He became department chair back at the University of Wisconsin after the war, and also had various jobs advising the armed services and the Department of State, including a stint as Army Chief Scientist in 1956-57. Notes about the Rad Lab: it was good at giving responsibility to young people, such as his boss Jim Lawson; there was fairly open communication internally and with rival labs; big industry could be lazy and lacking in initiative; it had wonderful management, encouraging self-management and initiative.

About the Interview

RAGNAR ROLLEFSON: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker IEEE History Center, 12 June 1991

Interview # 086 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Ragnar Rollefson, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Ragnar Rollefson

Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker

Date: 12 June 1991

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Background and Education

Nebeker:

This is an interview with Ragnar Rollefson in Boston on the 12th of June 1991. The interviewer is Rik Nebeker. Could we start by asking about your background, education, and experience before going to Rad Lab?

Rollefson:

I went to elementary and secondary school in Wisconsin. I attended two years at the Superior Teachers' College, and then went down to UW in Madison for the last two years.

Nebeker:

In what field did you receive your bachelor's degree?

Rollefson:

In physics. I always think everybody at Rad Lab was a physicist, but that isn't true. After I received my bachelor's degree I thought of going to another school for advanced degrees but they wanted to know if I didn't want to stay on for graduate work there. So I did that and got my degrees. I got my master's and my Ph.D. at UW-Madison.

Nebeker:

What was your thesis work?

Rollefson:

On molecular physics. It was a continuous spectrum which was in those dark ages a very funny thing to have. The quantized energy states were just coming in. How would you get a continuous spectrum from something like mercury vapor which has sharply spaced energy states? That was the principal part of it. Nothing to do with electronics.

Nebeker:

Was that in 1930 that you got your degree?

Rollefson:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What did you do then? It was a bad time to be looking for work.

Rollefson:

I had gotten acquainted with some people, one of them a very fine man who was an assistant professor there, but he was going to another university to take over the department. Out of the blue he asked me if I wanted to go along with him. He's a very fine man. He said, "But you've got to get a letter of recommendation from your major professor," who was also the chairman of the department there. When I went into get that, he said, "Well, don't you want to stay here?" Actually I loved the place. So I said I'd decided. I knew it might have been better for me to go some other place, but Wisconsin was a rather prominent research university compared with most of them at that time. So every time I thought of going away, somebody persuaded me to stay, and I'm still there. Emeritus professor for 15 years.

Nebeker:

That's very nice. Did you stay in that field, looking at molecular spectra?

Rollefson:

No. Van Vleck was on the Wisconsin faculty at the time. He had found serious discrepancies in trying to calculate intensities in the infrared from dipole measurements done by other methods. The infrared intensities came out too small by factors of four, ten, and a hundred, I think it was. So he wanted someone to measure the optical dispersion in the neighborhood of an infrared frequency with strong optical dispersion. The size of that is dependent on the magnitude of the change of dipole moment within a clear distance. A diatomic molecule like HCl or something. I had been working in optics almost exclusively, particularly optics of larger spectra. So when I heard he was worried about this, I said, "I'd be glad to do that." It worked out very well, and of course from one standpoint unfortunately the theory was right. The measurements had been wrong, the measurements of intensity, which are terribly difficult, in those days especially, in the infrared. Dispersion measurements bought theory and experiments into excellent agreement. That's a simplification because there are two kinds of emission: the pure rotation and then the rotation vibration. Everything worked out perfectly.

Nebeker:

That was probably good news to the theoreticians at that time.

Rollefson:

It's strange. Quantum mechanics had gotten far enough by the time I was through with those measurements so that the theorists just said "of course."

Nebeker:

At least it saved the face of the experimentalists if they're getting in line then.

Rollefson:

They recognized the fact that the absorption intensity measurements were just too difficult.

Nebeker:

Did you continue that work through the 'thirties?

Rollefson:

Yes. As a matter of fact, I didn't get through with the first one until '35 — after working on it for two years. I did those types of measurements until I went to Radiation Lab.

Recruitment to Rad Lab

Nebeker:

Tell me about how you were recruited for Rad Lab.

Rollefson:

That was very simple. Ray Herb, who started the electrostatics work at Wisconsin, was recruited early by Lawrence presumably because he'd done very nice work in electrostatic generators and electrostatics. Shortly after he went there, he asked me if I didn't want to go, but the university president said, "Oh, no." He even told me they had too many physicists at MIT already. This was, you know, before the war started. So that didn't amount to anything. But as soon as the war started, Ray got in touch with me again, and I didn't ask the president; I just went. [Laughter]

Nebeker:

How did he present that work to you, what you would be doing?

Rollefson:

I think he told me that I was going to be detecting problems. I'd been in optics at a completely different physical range. But I knew that the program was important for the armed forces and I knew many very good physicists who were already there. He certainly let me know that the work was accomplishing things that would exceed my expectations. And I wanted to go anyway.

Nebeker:

Why was that?

Rollefson:

People were going to that and also some of them on our staff were involved in other war work. It was exciting. Besides, it looked hard. So I was eager to go.

Nebeker:

Was that in '42?

Rollefson:

He did the recruiting at the end of '41. In '42 I reported for work.

Back of Dish System

Nebeker:

It says here: "System engineering, high-powered vac dish."

Rollefson:

I think it refers to the "back of the dish system." In the customary radar at the time the radiant power was generated in a fixed power plant and then passed through a rotating electric connection up in the rotating antenna thus giving the possibility of seeing in all directions. It was difficult to send the radio frequency signals through the rotating connections at high power because of sparking and poor contacts. However, if the transmitter power plant was mounted on the back of the antenna dish, ordinary electrical power, 60cy, 120v fed through the rotating joint and rectified signals at low voltage fed down to the display system, the problem with the rotating joint disappeared. Herb told me about this idea the first day I was at the lab. Building a high powered set with the transmitter mounted on the dish became my first job. It worked like a charm right away.

Nebeker:

Had you done something of that sort with your experimental work before?

Rollefson:

No.

Nebeker:

How long were you with that effort? It looks like until December of '42. Then it says "Research & Development, AJ." Would you explain what AJ is?

Rollefson:

Anti-jamming.

Nebeker:

So that's counter-countermeasures?

Rollefson:

Yes, in cooperation with the group at Harvard. I kept on with those other sets. I had people working with me on the back of dish system. What we would be doing there is boosting the power way above what was considered the allowable power used for the components and see what made then fail. Sometimes they didn't fail. Well a guy came over from England to find out how I was getting the tremendous ranges. I said, "We're not getting any tremendous ranges." We used enough power so that we ought to get that range with the proper use of our receivers. And he said, "Oh, is that all?" [Chuckling]

Nebeker:

There may have been significant changes in the course of your time at Rad Lab, but I'm wondering if you could describe the nature of the work a little bit more. This first thing you mentioned, that there was a recognized problem and you were asked to solve it somehow?

Nebeker:

Since the power was all being generated up behind the dish, you only had to have a contact joint — a commutator type of thing — to lead the power out. Then for getting the signal back, I was told, there will be intermittencies, and they would be just terrible. The contact would change in resistance and everything. I thought, no, not if I put three or four of them in parallel. The chance of a bad contact being the same on all of those would decrease. If they're in parallel, it's just nonsense. It worked. I never had any trouble with that rotating joint. So that problem as it was first stated was solved. But I wanted to get high power, so I worked with breakdown in antenna systems, and got up ten times the power that they were approved for. But, I wouldn't call it satisfactory for military use when they're that close to breakdown. But it caused a lot of interest in the Laboratory, especially the magnetrons that were being used to emit those powers. They'd been rated at 50 kW instead of several hundred kilowatts.

Nebeker:

Was that your own initiative?

Rollefson:

I was given the job of making a high-powered back of dish system. The receiving part seemed to be working fine, so I tried to improve other aspects.

Nebeker:

Who was your immediate boss?

Rollefson:

Jim Lawson, a remarkably capable man. Younger than I was, but he'd been in electronics and was very good, I thought. Can I just interject at this point that I think Radiation Lab was exceptional in the people in responsible positions? They knew they had to let a man do what he knew how to do. You could say, "we'd like to have information like this." But then just leave him alone. And that works very well.

Relations between Physicists and Engineers

Nebeker:

Was there any clear distinction between physicists and engineers in these groups?

Rollefson:

Not enough to be noticeable, I'd say. I think a few of the people were engineers, but most of them were physicists in the advanced development that I was in.

Nebeker:

I'm just wondering if there was any very clear feeling that "we're physicists, and this guy's an engineer"?

Rollefson:

Not a bit of it. And this goes throughout the war, I think. I never felt that there was any trouble that way.

Nebeker:

Did you have engineers who were valuable sources of information on all these electronics problems? Or were they mainly physicists in your group?

Rollefson:

In my group they were mainly physicists, and maybe electronic technicians. They'd build things for us. We'd give them the circuit diagrams. They were bright, and they'd help with the circuit diagrams sometimes.

Nebeker:

I'm just wondering how much of this was a physicists' operation, and how much engineering expertise was there throughout.

Rollefson:

We had people that could make drawings for the shops, the electronic shops, the mechanical shops, and machine shops. But the Lab was a remarkable place in that respect in the beginning. The guy that was running part of the shop and worked for us quite a bit, was someone that could just as well have been a physicist. He was really good and had this feeling for things. You could tell him what you wanted, and you didn't have to send him a perfect drawing for it; you'd just send him the sketch. When it came back it was a beautiful outfit. You can see how encouraging that would be to the people that were making these things. We had no problems that I could see, at least for a long time, with "I'm a machinist and you're a physicist. You tell me your business."

Communication and Secrecy

Nebeker:

How open were things at Rad Lab? Did you feel free to talk about what you were working on with anyone else at Rad Lab?

Rollefson:

I think I did, but I'm not absolutely sure. I was certainly impressed with the fact that people outside were not supposed to know. But I also was amused by the fact that, while we weren't to use the term in public, there was a sign on the corner of the highway where you turned off to go to the Lab that said: "RADAR LAB."

Nebeker:

Is that right?

Rollefson:

But I never heard of any rumors of a leak that was meant to hurt the country. The spirit was really good.

Nebeker:

One view that I've seen in print is that in the United States one went a little bit too far with security precautions. Whereas the English maybe didn't go far enough.

Rollefson:

I don't think that went on in places that I observed, except at somewhat high policy levels. After the war was over, I worked for the military at various times on leave from the university. I would find inter-service secrecy that I thought was just plain bad. But not a very great amount.

Nebeker:

You personally weren't hampered by security restrictions in your days at Rad Lab?

Rollefson:

I never thought of it that way.

Nebeker:

For example, if you were working on some particular problem, I gather you couldn't just have called up some colleague at UW or elsewhere and said: "Can you tell me how I can solve this?" Or, "Do you have any insight into this?"

Rollefson:

Yes, if I didn't give away anything that I knew was classified, I could have done that. I was working on coupling magnetrons — magnetrons plus their power supplies, the pulsers — onto that antenna. In the course of doing that, I wanted to know more about the power supplies and the behavior of magnetrons on different voltages, and also what people did about antennas. I remember in particular I went right down to the magnetron group and worked with one of the men down there. He kept on boosting the power that you could put on the magnetron, and I kept changing the antennas so that it wouldn't spark over. No restriction on that at all. And no possible danger to the country, I think. In some labs it was impossible to go to other groups and talk freely. But not Radiation Lab.

Nebeker:

What about contact with Naval Research Lab or any of the work being done by the Signal Corps? Was there any sharing of information that you saw?

Rollefson:

Yes, that I took part in. I think there was a little professional jealousy between the labs, and who started something. I must say that I don't think it was all in favor of the Radiation Lab. I can't remember now why I had to get in touch with NRL several times, but I think it was in connection with countermeasures or anti-countermeasures. I went down there, and I found that something that was touted around Radiation Lab as being a wonderful invention, NRL had been doing for several years. So I went back and told them about it. There were probably things the other way, too.

Naval Research Lab and Signal Corps

Nebeker:

Yes. I'm very interested in that. That suggests that there wasn't a lot of flow of information between NRL and Rad Lab.

Rollefson:

I would have thought at the time there was about as much as was needed. That is, if you felt that they knew down there, you'd call them up.

Nebeker:

You could arrange a visit?

Rollefson:

Yes. I was down there many times. In fact, after the war they got me to transfer on the biggest project in the Lab to the Navy.

Nebeker:

After the work you went to work at NRL?

Rollefson:

Well, yes and no. I stayed for a year to transfer this program in. One of the parts of it was the Navy AEWACS which was earlier than the Air Force AEWACS. We had the first one. Our relations were quite cordial at NRL. I didn't have much experience with the Signal Corps labs in New Jersey. I'm not sure right this minute whether my experience with them was before or after the war because I worked for the Army from 1956-1957 on leave from the university as the Army Chief Scientist. One of my jobs was to travel around to these Army labs. That's when I really got acquainted with Signal Corps.

Nebeker:

I see.

Rollefson:

And just an aside to it, I'll tell you one of the things I learned: It's very bad to put officers in charge, who really aren't technically competent but are just there to keep things going and see that the Army requirements are satisfied. They haven't anything to do because the people who are doing the jobs know what they're supposed to do and what's wanted and are normally pretty conscientious. So what happens is that they have to do administrative duties that get to be onerous. For example, I came to a Signal Corps lab once, and the place was just seething. Well, I wondered what's the matter here? Because I knew these guys. They were obviously just raving mad about something. Finally I got one of them aside, and he told me that they'd put in the regulations that if you were tardy you had not only to write a letter to a high official but get your supervisor to write another letter explaining why you were tardy. That morning they'd come to work and found that their parking area was being resurfaced and they had to drive away and get some other place to park. So droves of them were tardy. They were fit to be tied. That was a completely counterproductive thing that that officer was doing, but the poor guy didn't know anything else to do but put in regulations like that.

Nebeker:

These visits you made to NRL, was that usually because you'd heard they were doing something that you wanted to take a look at?

Rollefson:

I don't know. Probably to look at some equipment that I knew they had or some circuit theory they had worked at. Sometimes it was captured equipment that they had.

Nebeker:

Oh!

Rollefson:

We would look at countermeasures and anti-countermeasures, because we'd like to know what each group has. That may have been where I went to look at captured German equipment and captured Japanese equipment that was copied after the German equipment. At least I went some place and looked at that.

Anti-Countermeasures

Nebeker:

Tell me how you got into that anti-countermeasures business.

Rollefson:

That was through the administration, I believe. Jim Lawson came back from the steering committee and said, "We're now working on anti-countermeasures"

Nebeker:

I see. The whole group was switched over?

Rollefson:

Yes. But we kept on with this other stuff, too. You could be working on quite a few things at once because you sometimes are waiting for things that you want. When I first got there, advanced development was trying to improve the reception of signals. Jim Lawson was an expert on the receivers, so we worked on receivers. That's a good way to improve the reception of signals. When we got to countermeasures, it turned out that he could think of several ways of changing the receivers so that they'd be less sensitive to countermeasures. So we worked on receivers. That's the way to go. What I was emphasizing earlier was that people have to work at what they know how to do. No matter what the name was called, we'd work on the kinds of things the guys knew how to work on in that field. We did work on countermeasures, no doubt about that, and we got some good devices.

Nebeker:

You said you had contact with the Harvard group?

Rollefson:

Yes. There was a very ingenious low-frequency radar man up there that I enjoyed talking with. I can't remember his name now. I just haven't had any contact with him since. It was mainly to find out what kind of things could be done. That's where I first found out quite a bit about the window type of jamming, you know, tinfoil. I should say aluminum foil.

Nebeker:

Was there a good flow of information between you and RRL?

Rollefson:

Oh, yes. People at RRL were physicists that knew a lot of us and vice versa. Van Vleck (a former Wisconsin Physics Professor) was up there working with them. So I felt quite at home.

Nebeker:

I'm pursuing this duplication of effort theme. I mean, three places are working on anti-jamming and not sharing their experiences, their work.

Rollefson:

There are lots of things to work on in anti-jamming. I think they communicated with each other plenty, but this was fifty years ago so I don't remember all that clearly.

Nebeker:

At least you didn't come away with this strong impression that there was a duplication of effort.

Rollefson:

No, I think not.

Nebeker:

There was enough communication then?

Rollefson:

As a matter of fact, I think the fear and the propaganda about duplication, both in effort and in supply, was harmful. I found myself with this desire not to have any duplication. After the war we were working for a Navy program, one of my best men wanted a little capacitor, and it'd cost 75 cents. But the purchasing agent, who was a military man, (this was one of the few I've said an unpleasant word about), had to telegraph up and down the Atlantic Coast to all the bases to see that they didn't have one of these. Long before he got those answers — I didn't know he was doing that; I wasn't used to that system — this fellow who wanted the capacitor had walked down Federal Street, in Boston and bought one for 75 cents out of his own pocket. It's disgusting.

Nebeker:

Were there other times when military protocol, that you observed, seemed silly?

Rollefson:

No. I think I would have to say I was usually pleasantly surprised at how it didn't. If I didn't take "no" for an answer, I could just go and do what I wanted to do anyway. They conned me once with having them take the Brake discs off of a TBM, because we were doing take-off and landing tests down at a base in Pennsylvania. The guy said, "You can't fly that with those brakes on." Sorry. They don't have any in the storeroom. Take them off of those on the TBMs you have here. This project has overriding priority. They started doing that, and one of the officers got mad about it, but actually the captain bawled out his Navy men the next day because they'd been at a party that night, and there wasn't anybody around who really had authority to tell them to do that except me, because I was a civilian. He didn't get mad at me at all.

Airborne Early Warning

Nebeker:

Besides these visits to NRL, what relations did you have with the Army, Navy, or Coast Guard?

Rollefson:

On my first work it was always for the Laboratory, not for any service in particular, just a matter of getting up to very high powers. My first application for a particular service was for the Airborne Early Warning set for the Navy. It was a seven foot dish with the transmitter mounted in back and power output of over one megawatt. It performed very well from the start. We found the Navy to be very good at handling large projects of overriding priority. They assigned a number of exceptionally capable officers of rank from Captain down to help with making decisions and expediting the program.

Nebeker:

Tell me a little bit more about that work.

Rollefson:

In advanced development I had been trying to see how much more I could get out of the set. I wanted to put a big radar in a plane so that they could really see little things, such as periscopes, and also see great distances. I let it be known that I thought that was a good thing to do, and when they started on it, they put me in charge of the airborne part of the program, the whole program.

Nebeker:

Was this a Rad Lab program?

Rollefson:

Yes, Rad Lab, but the Navy cooperated. Berkner, I think, was the liaison officer from the start. The airborne part was the only part I was interested in. The rest of it was relaying it to ships. We changed that after awhile, and it became AEWACS instead of just AEW because you had the control right in the plane: airborne warning and control. Everything went swimmingly. This was getting to be close to the end of the war. It was after the war before the AEWACS part got built. But we had very high priority. I don't know how it got that name, but I think it was from the fact that there was an experimental station up on Mount Cadillac in Maine for studying the effect of sea clutter and what you can do to minimize it. This plane was supposed to be able to catch fliers coming in low. From the deck of a ship, you just can't do it because of the reflection at the signal from the sea. But that, I believe, was the reason for the name. [Chuckling]

Nebeker:

How much cooperation was there with the Navy in the course of your work?

Rollefson:

They sent a group of young Navy officers and men to work with us on the program, especially by the time when we were getting parts. One of them was early, before we had the parts to put into the plane. Three of my best men were Navy officers who started quite early in the program building components and testing them.

Nebeker:

So they came to work at Rad Lab like a Rad Lab employee?

Rollefson:

Absolutely. I put one of the Navy fellows in charge of the first plane.

Nebeker:

I suppose this was largely the Navy supplying some manpower for the project?

Rollefson:

Yes.

Nebeker:

There must have also been some input into it considering they knew the Navy's equipment and operations?

Rollefson:

We had a lot of military people and equipment. By that time Rad Lab could get everything it wanted. The Navy rated it very high, because as you know the kamikaze pilots were coming in low and wrecking things. I didn't have any feeling that we were handicapped by not being able to get things from the Navy.

I've just got to get in a word about industry. Every guy wants to be a supervisor or director, and it seems like they put guys in that position who didn't know the score in some cases. I'll say one of the important transformers in the whole business was made by a big company, and the transformers would fail after just a few hours' operation, one after another. Our supply people, while they were intelligent and energetic, would take them back to the company, and the company would just give us another one. My boys didn't like that. So they took one of them apart, and they found that the high-voltage lead running at 2T000V went within about 1/4 inch of the grounded core. That's where it would break down. They didn't break down right away because the whole thing was mounted in a solid compound — not wax, but it was something like that. That would get warm and melt, and it would spark. They should have known better than do something like that. I thought it was just disgraceful, and as soon as we told them what they had to do, they fixed it, and that transformer never failed in all the operations since that time.

Nebeker:

Didn't they take the initiative themselves to figure out what the problem was?

Rollefson:

No. That was sort of horrifying and annoying, because it caused us several failures.

Nebeker:

What other relations did you have with industry in projects you worked on?

Rollefson:

GE went into producing these sets after RCC (Research Construction Corporation) had made the first few. I'll say this on the other side of the coin. They put a project engineer in charge of it who was really good. I was impressed. We had to transfer the necessary information to him. Five years later — that was about the time the Chinese came down in Korea — I got a hurried call to come back to MIT. One of the first things I asked, of course, was what happened to this set. I had a very fatherly interest in it. I found out they hadn't got it finished yet. The Rad Lab built it in a matter of months. Here it was five years, and they weren't done. I said, "Well, what happened to Moe?" He was the engineer that I think was so first rate. "Oh, he left the program shortly after the war ended." So things can happen that don't make sense. But I didn't have very many contacts with industry.

Nebeker:

What is this Sambo that you worked on?

Rollefson:

It's been so long. I had worked with something called Sambo, but I think it was either in countermeasures or anti-countermeasures. It's so secret I don't even remember what it is. [Laughter]

Nebeker:

That was for a few months in '44. Before that I understand you were working on pulse-length variations.

Rollefson:

Yes, as an anti-countermeasures device.

Project Cadillac

Nebeker:

Then after that you were airborne assistant project engineer, PC. What is PC?

Rollefson:

Project Cadillac. Those are perhaps mixed up there, but by the time I was doing Cadillac, I was leaving the countermeasures. Cadillac was a full-time job.

Nebeker:

That probably works out to be in early, or spring, of '44 that you moved over to Cadillac.

Rollefson:

Yes, that's right.

AEWACS Proejct after War

Nebeker:

Just to continue one line of questioning, you said that when the war ended, you were asked by the Navy to continue on that AEWACS project?

Rollefson:

Yes. It was a combination of AEW and ACS. That had gotten a pretty good reputation. So they wanted the whole thing transferred to their auspices. I was the logical person to do it. Just to show what kind of people we had, I told them I wouldn't do it unless they got my deputy to come, too.

Nebeker:

Who was that?

Rollefson:

Clint Kelly. He came.

Nebeker:

Did you have leave of absence from UW all this period?

Rollefson:

Yes. UW was pretty nice.

Nebeker:

Were they anxious to get you back quickly after the war?

Rollefson:

Yes, but unfortunately the universities weren't aware of how the salary scale had changed. I was getting more than twice as much from the Navy as they were offering me, though they'd given me ordinary-sized raises out there. So I didn't act as if I were in any hurry. I really wanted to transfer that program to the Navy, too. I didn't want to stay with the Navy permanently, but I must say that Cadillac was the most fascinating program I ever had. Anybody that saw the results would say, My goodness! That's an order of magnitude better than I've seen before.

Nebeker:

Did you feel you'd successfully transferred it at the end of that year or so that you worked with the Navy?

Rollefson:

Yes. There were going to be difficulties, but I was assured that the lab that was going to do this would be transferred to Sunnyvale, California, out near Stanford. Admiral Radcliffe, to whom I could not talk, said, "No, that's going to be for lighter than air." And that was it. That was the first frustrating experience I had with the Navy. I couldn't talk to anybody about it. They didn't even make it an airborne, lighter-than-air base. They didn't move the lab out there. But by that time I was back at Wisconsin. All I could do was get annoyed at them.

Nebeker:

Did you follow that project after you went back to UW?

Rollefson:

Yes, for a few years I did. The AEWACS was flying, but I never had a ride in it to this day.

University of Wisconsin

Nebeker:

How was it going back to UW? You'd been away from your research for quite a few years.

Rollefson:

I didn't intend to go back to it. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do, but I'd learned a lot of new things in those five years. Then they unexpectedly made me department chairman. It is very difficult to do research, be a new department chairman, and do the teaching at the same time. We had a tradition where the department chairmen taught, of course. So when some students came around and wanted to continue work in that field, I let a couple of them know that I would be available.

Nebeker:

In what field?

Rollefson:

On this measuring dispersion to get the equivalent of intensities in infrared. There were several problems that were still troubling, but they were details compared to the first one which was that it was all wrong. [Laughter] I also thought I would like to do something in nuclear physics, and Herb was willing to have me work with his group. But the way it worked out, I spent so much time on departmental work that I didn't get a respectable amount done. So I dropped that and went on a little bit more with this molecular dispersion stuff. That's most of what I did besides the administrative work and the jobs I had on leave with the Army, Navy and Air Force. And also the State Department. Once you get to know the group, you pass around. It was just fascinating work. But I liked it back in Madison better as a permanent job.

Nebeker:

There must also have been busy years because with the GI Bill most universities were expanding.

Rollefson:

Oh, yes. Very fast.

Nebeker:

I can see one obvious effect that your Rad Lab experience had on your subsequent career: You did all of this later work with the Army, Navy, Air Force and the State Department. What other effects can you think of that it had for your career?

Rollefson:

That plus the contact with the people on Project Manhattan. I knew a lot of the really good men there. I left there knowing about an awful lot of things compared with what I used to. And I think it gave me a certain amount of confidence.

Nebeker:

You didn't change entirely your earlier line of work. You continued on that.

Rollefson:

That's right. My last graduate student to finish working on some of that dispersion work took his oral exam the night before my retirement party. So, it lasted. But I wasn't pushing it full time. It was the kind of program where there wasn't very much competition. I was the only one using the dispersion method, which was an order of magnitude more accurate than absorption measurements. We actually intended to measure CO^2, which is important because the amount of absorption of infra-red in the atmosphere is supposedly the cause of the so-called "greenhouse effect."

Nebeker:

Did the contacts that you made at Rad Lab, besides in some of the ways already mentioned, mean a lot to you subsequently?

Rollefson:

Oh, yes. The contacts plus the fact that they knew that I knew what to do. I got lots of offers throughout, and that never hurts.

Participation in Training Officers

Nebeker:

Did you ever have anything to do with training the military in the use of devices?

Rollefson:

Yes. When I was in the advanced development group, they would send people to learn something occasionally, but it was not an organized effort or a class or anything like that. The only demonstration that I can remember is that I had an extremely high-powered set working at 10 MW pulses, very short ones, but they were 10 MW. That's pretty strong. They were scared of it. So I went to the end of the horn coming out of the transmitter where I put my head down like this. I could feel the heat in my cheek all right. There are a lot of people who would say that was foolish, but I oversimplified the problem. I thought the only thing that could happen would be the stuff would be absorbed there, and that would warn me, and if it got hot, I'd get away. But there may be other effects. The literature has gotten into a furor about that right now.

Nebeker:

Sure.

Rollefson:

The electromagnetic effects. I think Adair probably knows better about them than most of the people that have written about it. But it's always possible that the electromagnetic field can act in some way we haven't thought of at least not much, and could cause something to happen.

Military and Rad Lab

Nebeker:

Is there anything else about the military relations with Rad Lab that I should be asking about?

Rollefson:

Well, I could tell you about one of the things that I learned in this work that I kept telling the groups of officers that'd come and visit me. Trying to superimpose orders from above on a scientific group, where this group of controllers has the say as to what gets done or what you try to do, is a terribly dangerous thing. I saw groups working enthusiastically on something that was vitally important apparently, and they figured they were just about through. Maybe the next thing they'd do was finish it. An order would come from on high saying we aren't working on that anymore. That is what happened to the advanced development group when the order came, that from today onward we're working on anti-jamming. But we didn't stop the rest of the stuff we were doing. That wasn't the way Radiation Lab worked. Nobody came and said we should. They just said they needed help on anti-jamming. The group decided what was going to be done. This happened very often. I was Army Chief Scientist for about a year and a half, and I had to visit the military labs. I'd visited Navy ones in connection with my work with the Navy on that high-power program. I also visited Air Force ones. The biggest discouragement for the people that made the morale so bad was this matter of sudden, arbitrary changes in program imposed from above. I think it justifiably irks people.

Nebeker:

It goes along with what you said earlier that the scientists and engineers know what they can do best and should have then some self-direction.

Rollefson:

Some self-direction, yes. You should come and ask him, "Can you do something for us on this?" Rather than, "From now on you're working on this."

Nebeker:

Yes. I see.

Rollefson:

There must have been about eight or ten Navy captains in office at one time asking what they should do to increase the morale in their labs. I emphasized this point above all others. "For God's sakes, don't impose these arbitrary changes in program."

Nebeker:

In this instance, your having worked at Rad Lab was obviously important because you knew how it worked and how things went at Rad Lab.

Rollefson:

I can't emphasize enough how much I've thought of that place.

Nebeker:

So you're not one who came away thinking if they had organized it differently, we could have gotten a lot more done?

Rollefson:

Never even gave it a thought. No, I knew that there were a lot of people around there, so quite a lot ought to get done. I don't know if that was all that could get done. But what needed to get done, we got done.

Nebeker:

At least as far as you could see, the individuals didn't feel that they were being constrained by the bureaucracy or the orders that they were being given?

Rollefson:

No. But I've got to say, I was really lucky. I got tossed into advanced development, which is what I just naturally like to do. When I first got there, I was working with guys as good as Jim Lawson and some of the others in that group. It was wonderful. They were good enough so that it would be a strange and stupid administration that would try to tell them in detail what to do. Being the project engineer for the big high-power program was a fairyland for somebody who'd rather do that than anything else.

Maybe I can just say one more thing. When I was leaving the Lab for the last time I went in to say goodbye to F.W. Loomis who was head of personnel. Just at the end I asked "Is now the time you say what you think of the management?" He assumed a mock defensive pose and I quickly went on "Oh no! I don't mean that. I mean to say that this is the best place I ever worked and I think it is largely on account of the management."

Nebeker:

And certainly the spirit of people. I'm sure that almost everyone there felt deeply committed to the war effort.

Rollefson:

Oh, yes. Well, I can't say I know that. But the people that had anything to say about it did.

Nebeker:

I went through college in the Vietnam era when nobody wanted to be associated with the military. You couldn't have operated such a Lab as effectively when people had different attitudes.

Rollefson:

I think that's true. Although perhaps on account of all this good experience I'd had with the military, I did not blame them.

Nebeker:

Is there anything else about Rad Lab you'd care to say?

Rollefson:

I think that the most important thing I could say was summed up in that last statement.