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Oral-History:Britton Chance

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About Britton Chance

Chance got his BA and MA in 1935 and his PhD in Physical Chemistry in 1941; plus a PhD from Cambridge in 1943 in Physiology. He also had a background as a juvie inventor of servomechanisms, plus radiotelegraphy experience and a set of physics lectures from Cambridge under his belt. He came into the Rad Lab in 1941, and worked in what would become the field of Precision Circuits—when that became a separate group, 63, Chance became its head. He also worked on the steering committee. His group worked on circuits for a variety of different radar devices, including for bombers, AEW, cruise missiles, etc. The Rad Lab was very successful on an informal, open basis, with socialization to cement loyalties. The only tension and rivalry he noted were with Bell Labs, Sperry, and GE. He spent time in England in 1942 or 1943, exchanging information with the British. After the war, he helped on the publication of books about the Rad Lab research, written up to jump-start US electronics industry. After the war he returned to the University of Pennsylvania, but was director of the Johnson Foundation from 1949. He has had a career in biophysics since.


About the Interview

BRITTON CHANCE: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, 12 June 1991

Interview # 090 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


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, Rutgers - the State University, 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.

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

Britton Chance, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

Interview: Britton Chance

Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein

Date: 12 June 1991

Location: Boston, Massachusetts


Educational Background

Goldstein:

This is Andy Goldstein interviewing Dr. Britton Chance on June 12, 1991, at the Haines Convention Center. Could you introduce yourself, please?

Chance:

I'm Britton Chance, former member of the Radiation Lab Steering Committee.

Goldstein:

Dr. Chance, let me thank you for coming to speak with me today. Could we start out by discussing briefly your educational background?

Chance:

My relevant background to the Radiation Laboratory was being a juvenile inventor of an automatic control system, a servomechanism system for ship and yacht steering. It was stimulated by my life on my father's yacht (Antares) and numerous activities on ships that led to an invention that took me halfway around the world before the Rad Lab had got started. In addition, I got licensed as an Extra First Class Radiotelegrapher to tend the short and long wave radio on "Antares". So that plus a couple of years in the electrical engineering school of University of Pennsylvania, as a hobby while I was taking a Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry, a year attending physics and math lectures at Cambridge University, England, and contacts with the physics and engineering departments at Penn identified me as someone who had electronics background in servomechanisms, particularly low-frequency phenomena, prior to the initiation of the Rad Lab project.

Goldstein:

What degrees did you earn, and when did you get them?

Chance:

Well, I earned a bachelor's and master's in '35, and one Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry in '41. These are the degrees I earned at the University of Pennsylvania. Then I earned a Ph.D. in physiology from Cambridge University in 1943, and a D.Sc., which you get if you publish adequately, ten years later.


Recruitment to Radiation Lab

Goldstein:

When did you first become aware of the Rad Lab? How were you contacted? How did you come to work there?

Chance:

Well, Louis Ridenour was one of the small group who attended the session of the Physical Society, which initiated the Lab. Louis contacted me to come there to meet Wheeler Loomis — as everybody did — in the summer of 1940. So I stayed there the next six years.

Goldstein:

How had you met Ridenour?

Chance:

He was a prominent member of the Department of Physics of the University of Pennsylvania. By that time I was known as an electronics circuit, servomechanisms person. I guess that I was naturally recruited by the Rad Lab.

Goldstein:

So you came to the Rad Lab in 1941?

Chance:

I believe so. My badge is No. 156. So that probably dates me exactly to June.

Precision Instruments Group

Goldstein:

What did you go to work on, and with whom were you working?

Chance:

The urgent project, as Ivan Getting has made imminently clear today, was the automatic-tracking "gun laying" radar, so I was immediately put to work with the late Al Grass, who started Grass Instruments. He was putting together the circular sweep ranging circuit for SCR-584. It had a number of significant bugs which, in the course of the summer, got fixed so that it was ready for Naval Proving Ground tests in September and for XT-1 in firing tests in Fort Hancock. It worked.

Goldstein:

This must have been by late in '41 at this point.

Chance:

That's right.

Goldstein:

Who were you reporting to at that time?

Chance:

I was in the receiver components group, which was Bob Bacher's group. Out of that very soon emerged the Precision Instruments Group, 63, of which I was nominated to be head. We gathered a coherent group of electronics experts very rapidly to take care of the precision ranging requirements for the many radar sets — even from SG on up. So that was a very busy time, each one working up to 80 hours per week.

Goldstein:

You say that the Precision Instruments Group emerged. What were the circumstances? How was a group formed from an earlier group?

Chance:

No, it was de novo as a result of need. The receiver components group was interested mainly in high frequency amplifiers, low-noise detectors; and the indicator group was mainly interested in cathode ray tube development for appropriate PPI display; and the precision timing circuits were our purview. The major groups were a receiver, an indicator, and precision-ranging a precision circuits group. Trainers later emerged.

Goldstein:

Was that the original organizational structure?

Chance:

There was no original organizational structure. Who could have predicted our explosive group! In addition we afforded a service function to the other groups. This became recognized and more important. So that we afforded precision circuits to all other groups.

Goldstein:

Do you know whose decision it was to establish a Precision Instruments group?

Chance:

To be sure I lobbied for it but it was the Steering Committee, of which I was later elected a member that ratified the establishment of the group. We were able to perform much better and Wheeler Loomis (in charge of recruits) steered more and better recruits to it. Some were excellent.

Steering Committee

Goldstein:

When were you on the Steering Committee?

Chance:

I think rather early. Ed Purcell and I were the younger members.

Goldstein:

Who were some of the people who were on it with you?

Chance:

Well, we have a picture of DuBridge and Rabi in the Five Years book. Rabi was really the intellectual leader of it and did a very wonderful job in that respect. DuBridge was the consensus person, which he always did it perfectly, keeping the sparring factions away from each other.

Goldstein:

How did the Steering Committee function? What was its mode of operation?

Chance:

The Steering Committee ran the Rad Lab. Positions on it were fairly competitive. I never asked how I got on it. But certainly all the policies were discussed freely there, and it served very well to do that function and to iron out contentions, jurisdictions, etc. You can imagine that the Radiation Laboratory members were very competitive. They were competitive people, each trying to win the war independently, and the Steering Committee was the forum where adjudications were made of territoriality.

Goldstein:

How often did you meet?

Chance:

We met rather frequently, but certainly no less than once a month. So it was a very functional group. Positions on the Steering Committee were probably much sought after, although I never ran into that particular aspect of it. Louis Ridenour was an outstanding member and advocate of forward-looking policies. Rabi was a very innovative person who perceived opportunities very early. Ivan Getting was a very effective person who got things through, who made systems work. Of course some of us from the components group — Lou Turner, Lee Haworth, and I represented at various times — were there to indicate the systems feasibility, to be innovative in suggesting new systems, to design new receivers or indicator or a ranging circuit, or even the test equipment, as it eventuated. So that was the input.

Goldstein:

What was your role in that committee? You summarized some of the characteristics of some of the other members. How did you fit in?

Chance:

I suppose I was more like Ridenour, being a firebrand, and going for the new systems, and so forth. I could be considered one of the more aggressive members of the committee.

Precision Bombing and PCM

Goldstein:

Can you recall any particular pet projects or initiatives that you championed?

Chance:

My career was along the lines of precision electronic circuits, a completely new field. The vacuum tube was not considered to be either stable or accurate! One of the great needs for precision equipment was in shooting weapons — or dropping bombs. While Bell Labs initiated the M9 computer for gunlaying with our ranging circuits in SCR 584, there was no equivalent initiative in radar-guided bomb dropping. So we initiated the bombing computer development as a major line of work and created, at the request of the Air Force, a special computer for "bombing through the overcast" with the H2X system (the first 3 cm airborne radar). The problem was that General Arnold trained his bomber crews in Arizona where there's never a cloudy day, and was completely confounded by the fact that Europe is covered with thick clouds from October to May — or worse. It still is. Of course the Norden Optical bombsight didn't work because there was no bombing through overcast with the Norden bombsight. So one of our military requirements in '42 was to produce 13 pathfinder H2X radars, from which we had to build a bombing computer from our ranging circuit, which we indeed did. It turned out to be a rather precise device which led the pathfinders over Germany that winter and continued to be operationally useful. That was an undertaking of the group which was adopted soon by the radar manufacturers — Philco, Motorola, Western Electric, and so forth.

But there were further initiatives in precision bombing, having to do with a computer that would bomb an unseen target. With radar the only target you can zero in on is usually a lake or a point of land in water. Even the X-band was limited to these contrasts. We proposed to use such a landmark as an identified reference point. We then compute your present position with geographical coordinates and maintained that position by reading in air speed and compass course and the computer then calculated where the unseen military target lay. This would increase the effectiveness of radar bombing by a tremendous amount and decrease civilian bombing. There was a Stratton Committee, which convened duly to judge the radar bombing proposals from Bell Labs, Sperry (Dean Wooldridge, Charlie Townes, Jim Shepherd), Norden, etc., to see who had the better mousetrap. Our mousetrap was selected to do so, and it was turned over to Charlie Townes and Dean Wooldridge at Bell Labs to put into production because Rad Lab didn't, except under emergency conditions, go into production of such things.

That's an example of the track of precision bombing. There were many other tracks. For example, there was the AEW, the Airborne Early Warning system (now AWACS), a precision data communication system, for which we developed the pulsed time data transmission circuit. PCM is the word now in use. So we did many, many similar developments of high electronic accuracy. One more development of 1945 was a direct plotting Loran indicator that is now on the market (1992). Of course were all discussed as Steering Committee projects. While approval was not mandatory, it certainly helped.

Goldstein:

When you say approval wasn't necessarily mandatory, what do you mean?

Chance:

The structure of the Rad Lab was such that some time was available for long-range developments even though a military requirement was not yet established. We often knew from battle-front reports that it would be.

Steering Committee Decision Process

Goldstein:

So the Steering Committee could stimulate research without there being a military requirement?

Chance:

I can think of only one "bootleg" project which was such a success that it is in use right now in the Exocet missiles. It is also used in the final approach of cruise missiles to their targets. If a radar radiates a target, as with the conical scan of the SCR-584, the echoes from that target contain the modulation characteristics of the illumination of the target. If you detect these echoes with just a passive receiver, then you can get the angular information on the target. My deceased colleague, Dave Griggs, flew his Luscombe plane, with a haywired circuit that we put in the airplane. To our consternation he put a hood on, and for the first time flew his airplane down a radar beam of the 584. This is the final approach device used in cruise missiles, as Ivan Getting told yesterday. We worked on anything that had to do with guidance, bombing, precision circuits.... Loran was an example. A calibrated delay was needed to know exactly how many microseconds you have added to the time delay to match the pulses, and that was another circuit application for which we made a dandy little device which performed much better than it should have.

Goldstein:

When you would champion these proposals in the Steering Committee, did you encounter much objection?

Chance:

No, the Steering Committee was always very sympathetic, understanding and supportive. We never really had a project which we presented that had to be dropped because of their disapproval. But of course we were always careful about our presentations. The Steering Committee was often thoughtful in its judgment: I was fortunate to have as sympathetic ears Ridenour, Rabi, DuBridge, Zacharias, Loomis, Getting, and Haworth.

Goldstein:

I'm not sure I understand the full procedure for securing permission.

Chance:

There wasn't a single procedure. You could use any procedure you wanted. Of course we didn't propose anything on which we hadn't made a good start. Often a request came from the military to do something a little bit different. Which was often possible.

Goldstein:

Did you in the Steering Committee function as an advocate for the precision instruments group?

Chance:

Lee Haworth cooperated with me in advocacy of the whole Receiver Component Division in the case of a new system, the systems groups would discuss with us their requirements for the new system.

Goldstein:

Did the Steering Committee function as an advisory board, or did it make decisions?

Chance:

No, it was not advisory. It was consultative, as they call it. That means you have to listen to what they say.

Goldstein:

How much autonomy did DuBridge have?

Chance:

Complete autonomy. The so-called Microwave Committee, which I guess was Karl Compton and some others — possibly Lee Loomis, whom as you know grandfathered the Radiation Laboratory in a very important way — impacted very little upon our activities. They acted beneficially, but not prohibitively.

Goldstein:

Did you feel that you had sufficient input in decisions of the Steering Committee?

Chance:

Yes. I always did. I never felt left out or out-voted. So I think it was a very congenial atmosphere, not only in the Steering Committee, in the Laboratory itself the mode of free communication prevailed among the researchers. We never shut anybody off from the others because something appeared to be more highly classified. I would certainly like to contrast that with the compartmentation of Los Alamos, where General Groves and the others managed to keep people from communicating with each other. It certainly didn't make that laboratory attractive to any of the members of my group. I'm proud to say none of them went to Los Alamos.

Goldstein:

If a member of the Rad Lab staff who was not on the Steering Committee had a proposal or suggestion, what was their recourse?

Chance:

They had perfectly good recourse to their division head because, as I said, each division was well represented. So that was a perfectly good hierarchy. I was associate head of Division 6 until Lee Haworth left. When I took over there were heads of the sections in Division 6. So there was no problem about communication or decision making.

Goldstein:

Were there formal channels for communication? Or was it handled more informally?

Chance:

It was more the informal type of communication. In other words, there was free communication. We had a special mechanism in our group to insure that communication was good and that complaints were heard. We had daily lunches together. I brought in an icebox and we all made sandwiches. In our reunion of the group, many of the group were instead going to go sailing with me during the lunch interval. We also made it a point of having periodical Laboratory parties because there's nothing like a little alcohol to loosen up a complaint. In that way I think we achieved something really wonderful. The security, and spirit, and dedication was tops, and we never had any security problems in that group or, as far as I know, in the Lab as a whole. We were very distinct from the Los Alamos Laboratory. It was an excellent example of information flow, which I think worked very well. Of course there were complaints. If people didn't like the job they were doing, we changed it around. When people weren't able to do the job they were doing, of course we shifted around. If people were doing a job which was too little for them, of course we shifted it around. We did it without a structure and with a great deal of flexibility, and I think we did remarkably well.

Goldstein:

At what level were decisions like that addressed?

Chance:

I made the decisions for our group. But of course I had several co-group leaders who managed a group of 20 or 30 people. So I did try to distribute the responsibility. The feedback was good.

Work Atmosphere at Rad Lab

Goldstein:

You mentioned before that there were cliques or groups of people within the Rad Lab. Were there any notorious ones that stand out in your memory?

Chance:

The systems groups had a different job to do from the components groups, and often there was an attempt to develop mini components groups in the systems groups. Ivan Getting was very effective at that. For example, he had a servomechanisms group in his systems group because the antennas had to be steered. It just depended upon the personality, or the relative megalomania, of the particular division heads or group leaders. Certainly the two Louis, Luis Alvarez and Louis Ridenour — were both the same age and had very similar creativity. Having been at one institution together before fostered a significant rivalry between them. And it's apparent that Ridenour became Associate Director of the Radiation Lab. As you know from Luis Alvarez's biography, he had one or two years in the middle of the war of poor productivity, and trying to make things go at Los Alamos.

Interaction with Private Industry

Goldstein:

Were there ever any suggestions for some kind of fundamental restructuring of the organization? Or were people generally satisfied?

Chance:

Very satisfied. On the whole, I think the organization was excellent and handled a difficult job — relations with the military on the one hand and the industrial people on the other — very effectively. I think that we always had a difficult time with AT&T Bell, or Bell Labs as it was then called, because its ego was significant. The idea that it could only be invented there was very crippling to communication. It's certainly true that the unique structure of Bell Labs, which excited the ultimate in competitiveness, was very deleterious to its role in the war, particularly in relation to our offset computer bombing device, which was turned over to Wooldridge and Townes. Its radar sets always came out later through Western Electric, and sometimes with cumbersome modifications that were quite unnecessary. I've mentioned the bombing computer as an example of delay and sociological consequences: never to drop a bomb in anger in World War II.

Goldstein:

In what way was it difficult to work with Bell Labs? Was it difficult administratively or on a personal level when it was necessary for Bell Labs researchers to consult with Rad Lab staff?

Chance:

I suppose they felt they were the professionals dealing with the amateurs. But of course there weren't any professionals in the radar field. It was all amateurs. Yes, uniformly there was difficulty, although Jim Fisk was one of the exceptions; but he was a great scientist as well. So it was probably the physicist-engineers that gave us the most problems. But Bell Labs wasn't unique. Sperry and GE were often difficult.

Goldstein:

What was the nature of your interactions with representatives from these companies?

Chance:

I was involved at all levels because I was the inventor of many circuits, for example some features of the range circuit for the SCR-584, and company engineers had to come to me to get the details to effect technology transfers. We often had engineers assigned to our group and often service personnel. We also met with CEO's, for example M.J. Kelley of Bell Labs. But when they had problems, we heard about it. There's a story about the Bell Labs personality who wrote a paper on the exact calibration of our range circuit, which depends upon knowledge of the velocity of propagation of radio waves through the air. In engineering this device Bell Labs engineering personnel reported, "Ah, the Radiation Laboratory is incorrect. They have the wrong speed of light in their formula." But of course this was an aircraft system, and it was made clear to them that the path was not through air at sea level, but it was calculated for air at 21,000 feet. They had hoped that they had been able to correct the "tyros."

Relations between Physicists and Engineers

Goldstein:

You mentioned competitiveness several times. Are you referring to competitiveness between a unified Rad Lab and external agencies, or within Rad Lab?

Chance:

I think we were pretty good within Rad Lab. There was good communication. Of course there were tiers of quality of knowledge, service, and activity. But for such a large laboratory, Rad Lab was just remarkable. There was unanimity among the diversity.

Goldstein:

Among Rad Lab employees, was there any distinction between the physicists and the engineers? Did they tend to segregate?

Chance:

Well, if you look at this Steering Committee and count the number of people with a physics background, you'll find that very few were engineers. It seems to me that the radar effort was the time for physicists, the time for creativity, and the time to throw away accepted ways of doing things and to innovate. On the other hand, some of our recruits to the components groups and the other groups were engineers. I don't think there was a war at all.

Goldstein:

If it was a physicists' operation, how did the engineers fit in?

Chance:

One of the best examples of an electrical engineer collaborator were Harold Hazen and Sam Caldwell. They afforded what they knew in hardware, software, whatever, to fit into the radar systems. But systems concepts and the frontier effort, I must submit, was largely in the hands of those with a physicist's mental attitude. I count myself in that group largely because at Cambridge I was taking mainly physics and math.

Social Life

Goldstein:

You said that there were numerous parties. Did you notice any trends in the socializing that people would do? Would they tend to associate most closely with people in their group?

Chance:

Yes. The groups were pretty homogeneous because of the inevitable loyalties that develop in an 80-hour work week. Everybody was working at top speed. Everybody was under stress. Everybody relaxed perhaps more vigorously than they would otherwise. So there was quite a grouping affinity, but not exclusivity. As you see, our group 63 still met as a group after 50 years. The ties are strong. I think the social structure was healthy, but on the homogeneous rather than heterogeneous side. Mariette Kuper, who should certainly be remembered in the history of the Radiation Lab as one of the directors of personnel under Wheeler Loomis, was always a spark plug, being Hungarian, vivacious and gregarious. She knew the importance of communication at the social level, and was noted for get-togethers of lab generally, while we would have our group get-togethers. So I think the social structure had much to do with the good morale of the Laboratory because it meant there wasn't just a drudge. It was a friendship and a cemented loyalty that served us well right through to the end.

Subgroups

Goldstein:

Did you think that the typical Rad Lab employee was aware of the administrative organization? Was an effort made to insulate them from those sorts of things?

Chance:

There was no effort to insulate them and in our particular group evolution of subgroup leaders emerged; I think we had at least four of them. It was recognized that there would be recognition of their initiative, and of their ability to administer a group in their generation of new ideas.

Goldstein:

How did the subgroups fit into the administrative structure?

Chance:

Oh, they didn't. It was recognized that they existed on a table of organization. But they were autonomous, or coupled only to the group leader.

Goldstein:

How did it work with your group? Who was in what position, and how many people were they responsible for supervising?

Chance:

I had four subgroups, led mainly by a mix of physicists and engineers, and they were often dedicated to a particular project. There was a central group that was doing frontier development on vacuum tubes and time-delay circuits, the fundamentals. We had a core activity with four peripherals.

Goldstein:

If a new project was launched, would a new subgroup be created?

Chance:

It might be if it didn't fit into the existing ones.

Goldstein:

What was the procedure for creating a subgroup?

Chance:

Well, the procedure was autonomous. I would decide together with my assistant group leaders. We would have a meeting, and it would last five minutes because we would say it should be or it shouldn't be.

Goldstein:

Wouldn't you need to bring it to the Steering Committee or any other higher organization?

Chance:

No, that was one of the wonderful things about the Laboratory. There was an autonomy of the group.

Goldstein:

What was the extent of your accountability? Did you have to issue regular reports on the activities?

Chance:

We issued regular reports and had an adequate budget. But we had fundamental development, construction programs, and also subcontracts. We had very effective subcontracts, for example, to the University of Pennsylvania for a colleague of mine named Presper Eckert, who became famous for the development of the digital computer. We did have a contract with Presper Eckert for him to make fast timing circuits. In the process, he became expert in our up-to-date and secret technology of vacuum tube circuitry, which enabled him to put together a much more reliable ENIAC than he could otherwise have done. Bruno Rossi of Cornell was under contract for the development of counting equipment flip-flops.

Mission to England

Chance:

But our best collaboration, of course, was with the British. We had the closest contact with my coauthor of Volume 19, Williams and Moody, who were skilled in circuit development. I was sent over to England in '42 or '3 to spend time with them to exchange information.

Goldstein:

You were working at the Rad Lab between '40 and what date?

Chance:

'Forty-six. I stayed through with the books.

Goldstein:

But you went over to England?

Chance:

Yes, '42.

Goldstein:

What were the circumstances surrounding that trip?

Chance:

I was sent over with some assimilated military rank to communicate with the British Radar Laboratories, TRE ADRDE ASE, which were at Malvern or Whitley, depending upon whether they were ground force, air force, or navy, respectively. I was to learn everything they were doing, and to tell them everything I was doing. On those occasions, my best and most informative colleague was F.C. Williams, who was at Malvern. We had much to exchange. Our paths had been quite parallel during the course of the war.

Goldstein:

How did the organization of the labs in England compare to the organization of the Rad Lab?

Chance:

You would expect that they would be dealing with bits of string and sealing wax, and we would be a little bit more organized. But otherwise they were quite parallel. Freddy had a group of half a dozen people, and I had a much larger group, but we were into more projects. TRE was dealing only with airborne equipment, whilst the neighboring ADRDE was dealing with ground ASE with ship equipment. It was a very congenial time because most of my classmates who were Ph.D. candidates of Cambridge turned out to be experts in radar in England, as well as in America. So I have a lot of very favorable connections with the Brits and circumstances for communicating with them. This coupling was presaged in 1938 because my knowledge of physics and electronics apparently attracted the attention of Mr. Robert Watson-Watt of the British CHL fame. He interviewed me in London at that time. He wasn't saying anything about the Chain Stations, which became apparent later.

Goldstein:

Do you know who stepped in to replace you as the group head of Group 63?

Chance:

My subgroup leaders, particularly Ivan Greenwood, Dick Close, Bob Hulsizer, Ted MacNichol, Dave Sayre, Vernon Hughes, and others.

Goldstein:

How long were you in England?

Chance:

No more than six weeks. That was simply to pick up information and return. Then, of course, Williams came over. It was a reciprocal thing and very fruitful.

Goldstein:

What were some of the projects you worked on afterwards?

Chance:

There was no immediate reorientation of our research because of that visit. Some of their circuit ideas had valves or tubes with particular characteristics, for which they had developed some very precise and simple circuits. These were certainly incorporated in some of our equipment. The generation with very precise voltages as a function of time was, of course, the heart of any range-measuring system. So the stability of the electron components, and the nature of the electric feedback were all parameters of our research. I would say it was abetted significantly by the British input and conversely.

Administrative Duties and Strategies

Goldstein:

As group leader, did you spend most of your daily time concentrating on your own work or did you provide assistance and guidance for the people under you?

Chance:

Well, I did both. I had my own projects which I worked on, mainly on weekends. I was busy directing and consulting with the group, checking the specifications and the performance, seeing that equipment was sent out, and taking care of new recruits-the whole thing of group administration. For me it was a wonderful, formative study because I was about 30 and to administer a group of 300 is a significant task. It was very formative to realize that each person is an individual and needs to be taken care of: proper communications, proper authority, proper right-to-know. I also made a point of ensuring that a number of women were in my group and trying to encourage them to take responsibilities.

Goldstein:

In what ways?

Chance:

We hoped to develop them to the extent of their background or skill.

Goldstein:

Did you actually recruit female employees?

Chance:

We often chose women. We were after all at war. Our group had one of the largest percent women-over 30%.

Goldstein:

Did people become group leader due to their administrative abilities, or due to their skills in design?

Chance:

Usually their preeminence in design because they came up with a substantive improvement in something. I certainly would never take away from somebody their discovery and assign it to somebody else. They would always be allowed the privilege of carrying it as far as they could. If they got stuck, some change would be necessary.

Many of the things came out of our core development group. Our group invented the first electrostatic storage in the cathode ray tube, which then became the basis of the British Ferranti digital computer. We also made very early experiments in storage of information in mercury delay lines, which was the basis for the moving-target indication device and also became the memory of the computer which Eckert and Mauchly used in EDVAC.

Important Projects

Goldstein:

Out of all these different projects, what do you regard as your most important work at the Rad Lab?

Chance:

I think they were all important. In other words, each one made a contribution to the military radar effort. We made a very simple range indicator that went into almost everything: the early Navy sets, SG; Loran, and it went into airborne equipment. It was a serendipic [sic] discovery. A double triode could be made into a delay circuit that was accurate to a tenth of a percentage and took only one vacuum tube, a major step forward. It was an essential part of XT-1. The ranging console for SCR-584 was an innovation. We may have produced the first programmable computer where you put a card in, and it did what you told it to, which Johnny von Neumann did for digital computers. There was a stack of cards, one for each bomb type, and you put it into the computer, and away the bomb went.

Goldstein:

When was that developed?

Chance:

Oh, '43, '42. For the H2X airborne bombing system. One of the projects that lasted longest was our Andy Jacobsen's data transmission link for the AEW, called "Cadillac," which was the first PCM data link. Now PCM is used everywhere. There are many applications of that kind of principle. Probably one of the secrets of our success was to have an open mind towards new projects and be able to cut the umbilical cord on an old project.

Goldstein:

Are there any that you did cut loose?

Chance:

Well, of course we cut them loose when we turned them over to the systems group.

Interaction with the Military

Goldstein:

Did you have direct dealings with the military, or was that done more through the systems group?

Chance:

No, we had dealings with the military. Our most important one was to train the 13 radar navigators for this H2X bombing computer in the intricacies of the circuit and for which Dick Close made for the programmable bombing computer. That was a very good contact with the military, and they certainly responded effectively. And used the top secret instruction book that we wrote.

Herein lies a story. This book was never to be carried in the B-17 aircraft. However one book was captured when one of the 13 B-17 was shot down and the Germans captured the report. I heard about this instruction book again in 1952, when I was a special lecturer in Germany to update them on biochemistry. My host asked me to meet a gentleman who said he had read my publications. I asked if he was referring to biochemistry. No, he meant radar. And sure enough, this scientist was my opposite number in the German radar effort who got a hold of this report in 1943 and then translated it into German in a much better fashion than our report. But unbeknownst to him, this report was on its way to Japan in 1945, and the submarine was surfaced off the Canary Islands with many secret documents, and of course this one came back to me. So I was able to say that I had read his report and enjoyed it. It seemed better than mine. So he's been a friend ever since.

Goldstein:

Did the military ever communicate design requirements?

Chance:

Very often there was a military requirement and often a very urgent tactical one.

Goldstein:

Would you interpret what equipment they needed?

Chance:

Well, yes. It was a cooperative job. It was decided that it should be X-band and not S-band, which is a terrible gamble. The Brits thought we couldn't do it, that we wouldn't have enough power to see the targets. Nobody had ever considered making a bombing computer for an airborne radar set. So, yes, there was an ignoble start.

Goldstein:

Would that be an occasion for the Steering Committee to get together? What group of people would get together to consult on that?

Chance:

Indeed such a project got the labs #1 priority from the Steering Committee but we didn't even have time to talk to the Steering Committee. Everybody was so busy from June to October that I didn't get to some Steering Committee meetings.

X- vs. S-Band Controversy

Goldstein:

But you said there was a controversy as to whether it should have been X- or S-band.

Chance:

Yes, with the British. But I think that the Rad Lab decided and quite correctly, that it should be X-band. The S-band set didn't have enough resolution. Even the X-band eventually needed an offset bombing so that the unseen target could be bombed using its geographical coordinates.

Goldstein:

When you said the Rad Lab decided autonomously, who within the Rad Lab consulted on the decision? Who gave final sign-off?

Chance:

I suppose that there was a discussion of Rabi, DuBridge, and Ridenour. But I think we pretty well knew what we wanted to do.

Publications Office

Goldstein:

When you say that you stayed on into 1946 to work on the books, what were the circumstances then?

Chance:

It was a joint project. Louis Ridenour spark-plugged it. He saw the great need of getting this vast bulk of information unclassified to start the US electronics industry. And that's what it did. It was a very significant effort to get those 19 volumes out. It was a wonderful effort. I called immediately upon my British colleague, Freddy Williams, to be coauthor of two books. One turns out to have been a landmark book.

Goldstein:

Were you given autonomy in deciding the contents of the book? Was there much editorial supervision?

Chance:

The editorial board assigned areas, but we were given carte blanche to write about that which we felt comfortable writing about. We produced three volumes on the radar circuitry, which were basic electronic circuits bibles. One was about waveforms, one on electronic time measurements, and a third on electronic instruments. The books were completed in the remarkably short time of a year. I read the galley proofs on my Guggenheim Fellowship in Stockholm. The books sold especially well, but to my knowledge no author received a royalty in the USA.

Goldstein:

Did you work much with your former staff on the book?

Chance:

Each staff member who was an expert in the topic had the privilege of contributing a chapter; it is a multi-authored volume. So, many authors were urged onward to meet the publication date.

Goldstein:

Were they on site at Rad Lab, or had they gone elsewhere?

Chance:

We all moved from building 24 to the old wooden building 26. The books were a very foreseeing decision on the part of the Steering Committee. But of course they did serve as a "final report" on the laboratory support. Remarkable! And of course we are still waiting to see such a report in the Atom bomb project at Los Alamos.

Rad Lab vs. Los Alamos

Goldstein:

How aware of the operations at Los Alamos were you?

Chance:

General Groves enforced secrecy and got a number of spy leaks. Autobiographies of famous atom scientists indicate solicitations of employment to Rad Lab people, which were unknown to me but which were uniformly declined in my group. The difference between the laboratories was based on the differing philosophy of General Groves and ourselves. He made clear that secrecy is absolute. Two people can't know what each other is doing. That would have been an absolute catastrophe in the Radiation Laboratory. Radar would never have fired a shot in anger had we adhered to the strict secrecy within the Rad Lab. Of course we highly respected the secrecy of military operations.

Goldstein:

Was there no deliberate or conscious effort to distinguish your operating style from that of Los Alamos?

Chance:

No. We knew little of the Los Alamos projects. We had spontaneously balanced free communication, socialization, democratization, and lack of military presence. Remember, General Groves of sanitary engineering fame ruled the atom bomb project. The Microwave Committee, K.T. Compton, Alfred Loomis, and Lee DuBridge and the Steering Committee ran the Rad Lab as a scientific project in principle with important priorities. It was really a study of democratization and effective collaborative research as contrasted to isolated attempts to put together the parts of the jigsaw puzzle without ever being able to see the total picture.

Postwar Career

Goldstein:

After the book project was completed, what did you do?

Chance:

Well, the Guggenheim Foundation — bless it — recognized intellectually impoverished scientists who had left their chosen scientific careers to join the war effort as opposed to those who continued their chosen careers during the war years. Guggenheims were awarded to people like myself. The Rad Lab was very mutlidisciplinary, and I guess I was an example of a transplanted biophysicist who wasn't doing biophysics during the six years of war. So I was able to go to Stockholm and Cambridge on a Guggenheim Fellowship. It was a "shock" to go to a country which had not been war torn, namely Sweden. Both Sweden and Switzerland had made immense progress in many fields during the war effort and had moved way ahead of my research. So I had to catch up. Philosophically, it is interesting that when there has been a scientific drought, the rain starts again — the science sprouts even faster than it had otherwise because of the pent-up "drive" over the six years. Also out of the war effort came some useful technologies. Bob Pound told yesterday as to how NMR started, and it was because they borrowed Rad Lab components. Purcell had the question, but it was Torrey and Pound who had the components. My group had the electronic components, which then were applied to biophysical problems. So in every loss there's some gain.

Goldstein:

At the beginning of the war you said that your scientific career was derailed by your participation in the war effort and the Rad Lab. Was that a concern for you at the beginning?

Chance:

Of course it was, but I'm not the kind of a person who gets concerned about those things. Anybody else watching from the sideline would say, yes, that I stood still on the academic ladder. I was an assistant professor on leave from the University of Pennsylvania. There had to be a number of letters written to maintain that position because that was a three-year renewable position, and they could have dropped me off at any time. Getting back onto the academic ladder and becoming director of the Johnson Foundation, which did occur in 1949, was only the result of prodigious catch-up efforts, which were difficult. I had ill feelings about my competitors for that position who had not deviated from their research course. I still have ill feelings.

Goldstein:

Did you take on that position immediately after returning from Europe?

Chance:

I came back as an assistant professor with no grant, no budget at Penn. However, Dr. Bronk and Dr. Richards, both of whom were dedicated to the war effort, helped me out. Nevertheless I had to push my way up the academic ladder. I was fortunately promoted to full professor from assistant professor. There is no doubt about it, that behind me of course were the Rad Lab Physicists, "the Charles River Boys." If you were a Rad Lab person and your name was up for an appointment, they would write you a good letter of recommendation. I believe that their support was pivotal in getting me promoted to full professor, appointed to Directorship of the Johnson Foundation, elected to both the National Academy and the American Philosophical Society, and invited to Eisenhower's Scientific Advisory Committee at a very early age. We enjoyed each other, and we stuck by each other. It's a good thing to have the physics community behind a biophysicist.

Impact of Rad Lab on Later Work

Goldstein:

Can you comment on the way your Rad Lab experience affected your work in biophysics, or any future work?

Chance:

The Rad Lab provided me with a sound knowledge of how to choose among projects and set priorities. In addition, I had a solid background of electronics technology and an idea of how to design and build analog computers. We built analog computers and were right in on the ground floor with digital computers because of my connection with Pres Eckert. So I would say the technical side of biophysical science was vastly improved. For example, in the last three years I've been lucky enough to be able to apply radar technology to optical ranging the human brain. Now we use 50 picosecond light pulses and find out how far light protons migrate through the multi-scattering material of the human brain. The time domain, instead of being one microsecond, it is now 50 picoseconds. The radiation, instead of being microwave is photon-density light waves. But everybody's interested in what photons do anyhow, because I think the next step in computers is going to use photons instead of electrons. So of course it's second nature for me to know how to design a radar system for exploring the brain.

Goldstein:

Could you describe how that radar system operates?

Chance:

We use very short light pulses from laser diodes, and that light goes through the skin and the skull and into the brain tissue. At appropriate wavelength, we measure whether or not you have inadequate oxygen measured as less oxyhemoglobin in the brain, which less than a certain amount will cause a stroke. And strokes will kill. As several cm from the input a second optical fiber which measures the exit of the photons after having proceeded by as a diffusion wave from input to output, and then you decode signals with radar techniques. You can make images.

Goldstein:

Have you been working on this for a while?

Chance:

We only discovered the brain patterns three years ago. But now it's a new field. The IEEE held a symposium on this topic because optical engineering is an emerging field.

Goldstein:

Would you like to discuss any other technology?

Chance:

I would have been very chagrined in retrospect, not to have had the Rad Lab experience because it's been a technological boost. It afforded me the opportunity of getting rid of delusions of grandeur of running a big laboratory, like exploiting a lot of patents, big developments contracts with a big company. My time there allowed me to be a much better basic scientist because my aspirations are to do basic science. And I still have them after 50 years.

Goldstein:

Is that through observation of older more experienced scientists?

Chance:

Well, no. The opportunity to supervise a whole lot of people, some of whom were top notch, goal-oriented people, some of whom were never going to get a project finished, some of whom had a tendency not to do it correctly but say they did. All of those are in the spectrum of scientists.

Goldstein:

What project brought you into association with Presper Eckert?

Chance:

Presper Eckert had a subcontract from my group to develop a radar timing circuit. He did learn all about radar circuitry and whatever was necessary to become expert in the electronics necessary to make a digital computer.

Goldstein:

Do you recall what project he was supposed to develop the timing circuits for?

Chance:

It was general development of improved circuits for measuring radar range.

Goldstein:

Was it widely applicable?

Chance:

The project was never completed. We have unsuccessfully tried to find his contract report. But I cite this contract to show that the Rad Laboratory had a number of subcontracts with other investors as well.

Goldstein:

Thank you very much.

Chance:

Good! Well, thank you.