Oral-History:George Wilhelm Stroke
About George Wilhelm Stroke
Stroke, of German Jewish ancestry, was born in Yugoslavia, received his baccalaureate in France, specializing in optics, got out of Nazi Europe by the skin of his teeth, apprenticed himself in an optics laboratory in British Palestine for four years (studying with Prof. Emanuel Goldberg), and then returned to Paris in 1947 to study for an optical engineering degree, which he received in 1949. He became a very junior executive at a lens-producing factory at 24. In January 1952 he emigrated to the United States, rejoining his family, and went to work for Professor George Harrison at MIT. He worked there until 1963, with one year-and-a-half interruption to earn his Ph.D.at the Sorbonne, studying math and science with an eye towards providing proper scientific foundations for industrial applications of optics. He was the first person in the world to write a Fourier-transform program, ca. 1956, adapting Fourier-transforms for use in optics. His work on diffraction grating theory made possible the development of diffraction grating ruling engines; his work on interferometer signals and optical feedback also have very widespread industrial application in interferometric servo-control ruling engines. During the 1950s he also helped with the “alignment” of the Polaris missile system. His rivals/peers in the 1950s were John Strong at John Hopkins and Horace/Howard Babcock at Mt. Palomar.
He became a full professor at the University of Michigan in 1963, and did a great deal to found the field of optics in electrical engineering, and also the field of holography. He was at Michigan till 1967 (working on deconvolution, deblurring images), at SUNY Stony Brook till 1978 (still working on holography, imaging atoms in a crystal, a.k.a. crystallography), and he came to Germany in 1978 to work for MBB, Deutsche Aerospace, consulting. After 1963 he worked as a consultant to Richard Perkin at the Perkin-Elmer Corporation. He is proud of his work campaigning to get a Nobel Prize for Dennis Gabor for his pioneering work in holography. He is proud of his book An Introduction to Coherent Optics and Holography, which has sold 50,000 copies. In the 1970s he spearheaded a panel to turn ultrasonic diagnostics research into useable medical products. In the late 1980s he was on a NATO laser task force.
About the Interview
George Wilhelm Stroke: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, July 3, 1993
Interview # 174 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
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 or email@example.com. 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:
George Wilhelm Stroke, an oral history conducted in 1993 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.
Interview: George Wilhelm Stroke
Interviewer: William Aspray
Place: Munich, Germany
Date: July 3, 1993
Early Life and Career
This is an interview on the 3rd of July 1993 with George Stroke. The interviewer is William Aspray. Can you begin by telling me about your early life and career?
I think I can summarize it in a formal and brief way. I'm a typical European if you wish, a lucky and successful immigrant. I was born in Yugoslavia, but my father lived in Germany already at that time (since 1911). We came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and we literally had to leave Yugoslavia. My father wasn't a Yugoslav citizen ever, and in 1938 they evidently confronted him with the choice: "Either you now become a Yugoslav citizen," (for which there was no reason), "Or you leave within ten days." I never had any reason for telling this story because people wouldn't have understood; why should one have cared about Yugoslavs? [Laughter] I've never been back, by the way, since 1938, and I grew up in France.
As a seventeen-year-old during the German occupation, through some luck, I made it over the border, the Pyrenees in Spain, took a trip around Africa, and landed in what was British Palestine at that time, in 1943. I was extremely lucky. I had just finished my baccalaureate in France and had done very well in optics. Through a journalist friend of mine, I was introduced to the former chairman of the board of Zeiss-Ikon. Zeiss is the famous German company, and Professor Dr. Goldberg had founded a twenty-man little laboratory paid for by the British Army. It was in British Palestine. I've never been in what has since become Israel, by the way. I never had the chance. I committed myself to what was a German-style, four-year apprenticeship. I could commit myself for four years. This was really a very important factor in my education. This was learning fine mechanics and optics. I finished in the required four years, the first two years without being paid. So I did everything from foundry work through electroplating, machine work, glasswork, lenses, microscope lenses, painting, and woodworking, and whatnot. I finished the night school exams and the London matriculation. Then I went on directly (before the Palestinian state was founded) to Paris in 1947 and entered the Ecole Supérieure d'Optique (the Institute of Optics) on Goldberg's recommendation. It was part of the famous French university; they're called technical high schools like the Technische Hochschule, as it used to be called. I finished the optical engineering degree in two years. I came out first in my class. Consulting for the most famous French optical company paid my way through school. I wanted to become a medical doctor, but the money wasn't there to keep me studying seven years. But as you will see later, I was a full professor of medical biophysics at the medical school — I was at Harvard Medical School for three years as a visiting professor. [Laughter] So I got it out of my system. So my interest in medicine hasn't diminished.
I finished school, had already done consulting in France, as mentioned, saved some production of wild-licensed theodolites with some technique that I developed during my apprenticeship. Then in typical French style I became immediately what is called in German a "Leitender Angestellte". It's a class that I did not know even existed in Germany, I must say. In France it is just below the top executive category, and I had three hundred people working for me in an optical lens-producing factory, when I was twenty-four years old. I had applied for an American immigration visa already during the war. There was a quota system. It took seven years to get the visa. In January 1952 I immigrated to the United States. I had a good position in France, so it was a somewhat ambiguous decision. But in January 1952 I came to New York. My mother and brother had lived there already. They had been able to come there during the war.
MIT: George Harrison & Charles Townes
My brother was at MIT at the time, so I visited there, and he sent me to see Professor Arthur Hardy, a famous optics person. I had recommendations to Edwin Land, who wanted me to come to Polaroid. Personally he asked me to accept an offer of $7,000, an enormous salary in 1952. But Professor Hardy, with whom I consulted, was of the old-style optics, and he said, "Well.... Yes, you're an engineer. And Edwin Land's offer is very good. But you haven't studied in America. You haven't been at an American university. At a certain point in your career, that will be a blockage." So I said, "What do I do?" He said, "There is this dean, Professor George R. Harrison, Dean of Science...." "Ah," I said, "I've heard about his interferometric servo-controlled diffraction-grating ruling engine." He said, "Exactly!" So I went down the hall to see George R. Harrison, who had been the Science Advisor to General MacArthur. I was twenty-eight, and he was probably twice my age at the time. I said, "Dean Harrison, I want to work for you." He said, "You're crazy." Those were his first words on that. I said, "Why crazy?" He said, "They're now paying you $7,200, and I can pay only $3,200." I said, "I can live on that." He said, "You can live on that, but you shouldn't." I said, "I know my worth."
So I started working on the diffraction grating ruling engines with George Harrison in 1952, and I stayed almost twelve years, with one and a half years' interruption to go back to Paris to get my Doctor of Science in physics at the Sorbonne (the old Sorbonne) and to present my thesis in 1959-60. I stayed from 1952 until 1963 at MIT. Not being idle, I hadn't been able to study certain subjects during the war. I had a lot to learn. MIT had quite a good mathematics department: applied mathematics and so on. I took courses in many fields of mathematics which I had not had a chance to study, including differential geometry, matrix algebra, calculus of variations, and what not. I passed the exams of course; they were all tops. But that wasn't the object. I just wanted to learn and become aware — and this is terribly important in terms of my entire career — of the importance of science and technology in modern industry. I was always very active in industry. I mentioned this before, having started with Goldberg and been in a good French industry and consultant to the top company. I was paid a full engineer's salary for one day's consulting per week when I was twenty-six years old, so evidently they needed me. I felt very strongly that there could be no progress in either these ruling engines optically and for interferometric servocontrol, or any other type of optics, or many other fields, without going deeply into the mathematical and scientific foundations of the field. I have often used a phrase in my book which a good friend of mine, Charlie Townes, the provost at MIT, used in another book. It's really more or less adapted from Townes. I used it here in my book, called An Introduction to Coherent Optics and Holography — 50,000 copies have sold already.
But to go back to the mathematical character of optical engineering, I say here in my book that, "Perhaps the single most important element in the rapid development of the electro-optical sciences is the great simplicity that results from deliberate use of a sophisticated but powerful mathematical formulation." To paraphrase Townes, one might say that the recent dramatic development in electro-optical science, including the maser — and now I quote — "...epitomized the great change that has recently come over the character of the technological frontiers." The maser, nonlinear optics, optical computers, interferometric grating, lenses for photography, optical filters, and automatic reading systems, to mention only a few, were predicted and worked out — I quote again from Townes — "almost entirely on the basis of theoretical ideas that are rather complex in their exact nature." These are not inventions or developments "which could grow out of a basement workshop or solely from the approach. It is only an approach with intuitive trial and error." These are features of our present scientific age that have come almost entirely from modern theory in physics, communication sciences, and optical engineering. Those are my words. Townes really recognized this quite early, and he wrote it in The Age of Electronics in 1962. Anyway, we know each other quite well.
In order to develop the diffraction-grating ruling engines, I had to go very deeply into the theory of diffraction grating. I found that there was some need to understand the two separate aspects, which were quite controversial even when I presented my doctoral thesis. Professor Kastler, a Nobel Prize winner, and a good friend of mine, who was the president of the French Academy of Sciences, had developed some other theory, and I was faced with the dilemma, what do I say? Is it in my thesis and he knew it? When he asks me, do I say he was right? My friend said, ". . . and what about this aspect?". So when he asked me, I said, "Yes, yes, you are right." I'd rather get my degree. [Laughter] Well, he knew I knew; we are very good personal friends.
There are two aspects of diffraction gratings: one is the image formation aspect. That is to say, variation between the wavefront and diffracted by the grating and the diffraction pattern, which through the congruence spectrum creates the spectral image. The other is the distribution of the light orders. The first is now in the Fourier transform formulation which used to be derived by heuristic methods. But I went back all the way to Maxwell, Kirchhoff, and Sommerfeld and found they had knowledge, and that they had done quite a bit with some of their students. I put the last "brick" on it, if you wish. I say I wrote this, but I would not claim that I now know everything that is in my own book. I could show how you could derive the so-called Fourier transform, the relation between the wavefront and the diffraction pattern, which I, of course, can derive heuristically and do, from Maxwell's equations. It is a rigorous form of the Kirchhoff diffraction. This was important in order to show what the approximation is in the far field or near field. You can show the original additions and what kind of wavefront is suitable for the image formation. That was Part A.
Part B is the distribution of the spectrum light in the different diffraction orders. People used to think that this was also done by some geometrical formulation. Twersky and other people thought that would do it, but I could show in some very convincing examples that this was a purely electromagnetic boundary-value condition phenomenon, and I really also derived it. There are some examples here if I can find them, some rectangular, perfectly conducting grating steps where the electric vector in a plane polarized wave is normal to the vertical side of the step. If the grating steps are half a wavelength deep each, then you show that these act as a perfect mirror, and there is no diffraction at all. The boundary conditions are satisfied. The normal component is zero and the other component of the grating step is tangential to the polarized wave, on the lower face, so altogether the steps act as a mirror. This is not understandable by the geometrical theory, but only by the electromagnetic theory approach that I've published.
I'm saying all of this because it was essential to get these diffractional grating ruling engines. Harrison at MIT had received, as a gift, na engine from Chicago. Here is a picture in this book. They call this book "an article" — 350 pages. [Laughter] It is the article on "Diffraction Gratings" which I was invited to write for the world-famous handbook, Handbuch Der Physik. I only have two copies. We needed them to negotiate, but this engine came to us from Chicago, from Michelson, the first American to receive a Nobel Prize in physics. I studied Michelson very carefully. I could also show then how to obtain an interferometer signal which was to represent the motion. This was the first machine in the world to be controlled through optical feedback. I should say that Harrison and I never took out patents. We were funded by the Office of Naval Research, and at that time the custom was — and if you remember my training, it fitted very well into my own type of thinking — to be funded by public funds; we owed the rest of the science to the public, and we took out no patents. Why do I say this? I would be a rich man, and I wouldn't have had to work at the age of seventy, as I do, if we had taken out patents, [Laughter] because these interferometric servocontrolled principles are used in every wafer stepper in the world. Wafer steppers are those machines in the microelectronics industry that are used in the production of photoresist-coated silicon or gallium arsenide wafers. People, of course, would rather not know about this because they couldn't take out patents if they went back to the literature.
According to what Townes said and what I say in my book here, the scientific technical basis of the diffraction gratings and the ruling helped us to produce the ruling engines which were the best in the world, and which set the pattern for diffraction grating ruling engines everywhere. We had many students, so this effort was transferred to industry by Harrison, to Bausch & Lomb, and by myself to the Jarrell-Ash Company. In the 1960's when I came back from Paris after one and a half years to finish my thesis and make the fellowship — I then came back to MIT, and was then consultant to the Perkin-Elmer Corporation for Richard Perkin personally.
John Strong and H. Babcock
The other work that was going on at the time on diffraction gratings, what was its nature? Was it at all mathematical? Were there some people in the field pursuing it in the same way that you were?
No. Nobody was pursuing our method; we were the pioneers. The question is highly relevant and welcome. The most famous competitors at that time were two of my very good friends later. One was John Strong, who just recently died. He was at Johns Hopkins. I had already admired him while in British Palestine. The very first book I ever bought was Methods in Modern Physics by John Strong. He was still pioneering. He was a professor. He went to the University of Massachusetts after he retired from Johns Hopkins. He was a very great man. The method he was pioneering was mechanical perfection. He thought the better way was to make a more perfect screw with polishing. The other one was Babcock at Mt. Palomar, the observatory. Let me say something about John Strong. I think it was in 1956 that there was an international meeting of the Commission of Optics, or something like that, at MIT. Zernike, I think, had just received the Nobel Prize in 1956 or '57. I cannot recall exactly. John Strong came to my lab. Harrison was out at that time. It was Harrison's lab. I was the research associate. He prepared for a demonstration, and just that day of course this machine engine, which you just saw in the picture here, did not work. A typical visitor's effect. [Laughter] I explained to John Strong what I was doing. He said, "George, you are going to succeed. Here and now I'm giving up my method." And he gave up. He was a great man. You know, John Strong is a very, very famous scientist. He immediately saw that this would work, you know, just like a good theoretician. I have apparently this gift, too. I can look into the future.
The other one was Babcock. Also working on mechanical machines, but different. He also gave up when he saw that we were succeeding. These were, like in all sciences, nice periods. But there were still some controversial situations, much to do with envy, I suppose. Scientists are not any less touched by these problems, I would say. But never John Strong and especially never Babcock. This is why I visited him. He went on to other things. There were two Babcocks, Howard and Horace, father and son, both famous astronomers. I think Babcock may still be alive, but he isn't there at the Mt. Palomar Observatory any more. So the answer is, in summary, that we were the pioneers in this method of interferometric servocontrol of diffraction gratings.
Fourier-transform Program & Wavefronts
I may mention as an aside, I was the first person in the world to write a Fourier-transform program. The first digital Fourier-transform program in the world ever written was written by me. This was in 1956 or 1957, when we received at MIT the first IBM 704 computer, with the mandate that everybody had to program for himself. That was the very first IBM commercial digital computer. I should say that I have never had time to build monuments for myself except the books. I had an IEEE fellowship in 1972. I had good friends in IEEE, and I received once an Alexander von Humboldt Prize, and it brought me to Germany. But I also was instrumental later in getting a Nobel Prize for Dennis Gabor, for "holography". I went to various men, Nobel Prize winners, friends, Prokhorov in Moscow, Kastler in Paris, and so on. You name it. Because there were some people who were going to try to bury Gabor. He got the Nobel Prize singly. That's the important thing. I could have shared it, but it was too risky for me. There was a third person, [Chuckling] and I said, well, maybe two, but then there would be one too few. It was easy to show that Gabor deserved it. I was invited to Stockholm, of course.
But coming back to the diffraction gratings, we were the only ones. I had to write the Fourier-transform program because, as I mentioned to you, it was necessary to get the relation between the diffracted wavefronts and the spectra. When the IBM 704 computer came to MIT, I went to Phil Morse, director of the computing center, and said, "Do you have a Fourier-transform program?" He said, "Well, no, we don't. But let's look through "SHARE". There was no FORTRAN at that time. So we looked through "SHARE"; it was not very difficult. It took maybe a couple of days, but there existed no Fourier-transform program at that time.
[Chuckling] I asked Phil Morse, "What do I do?" He said, "You write it." [Laughter] So I really wrote it by myself, using "Simpson's rule" and tested it on some simple functions like this and this. A triangle, and what do they call it? Not a step function, but a rectangular function. So you could compute analytically. I tested the program. There was an MIT computing group and I mobilized other people to run the thing. This was before I went to Paris for my thesis; I carried the IBM program cards in my hands to Paris in the right order. I never use it anymore. Of course this was the first program. You must remember, at this time this Fourier-transform program, the digital Fourier-transform program, was much before X-ray crystallography, which became the interest of others. There have been many Nobel Prizes in crystallography based on Fourier-transforms since that time, and much use of Fourier-transform programs in geophysics and of course in optics. In 1959 I gave a conference in Sweden at the International Conference on "Optics in Metrology".
Here I can show some examples from my article published in 1967 in the Handbuch Der Physik. Here is the diffraction pattern I completed by digital Fourier transformation from the wavefront. This was a very good wavefront. These are the spectra produced in a spectrograph with twelve-meter focal length, not just trivial, using a mercury 198 Camp. I also found that you had to correct for a parabolic focusing effect. For example, you focused for a plain wavefront with the parabolic, which is like a parabolic. Then the diffraction background goes like this and not how it should be. Then I recognized this and made correction curves. Of course, I had some optics knowledge from my studies in Paris. But then I made several gratings like this, with deliberate mistakes. It's most important. Different wavefronts in the spectrum, computed from the interferogram, which I also built. It was very difficult to get these interferograms. It had to be done very, very carefully. I say this without false modesty, because I really am correct. I have always quoted everybody correctly, whether he is my competitor, whether he is a deliberate enemy, or a friend. This is not necessarily the custom anymore. There are places — holography, for example, in Michigan. They have built up a fiction of publications and records, and they ignore other people. This is not the only field. But I have never done it. I felt that this integrity is something which I was brought up with. It may look naive, but I think that people are coming back to it.
My friend who is now the provost at University of Rochester, Brian Thompson, is similarly correct. I asked for his help when I proposed to try to get optics into electrical engineering. I was the first to do this physics. He now edits "Optical Engineering"; he's started to again insist on correctness in quotations and looking up quotes. I should say that this tends to irritate people who like to commercialize science. I have no difficulty being a consultant or even a member of an industry. I know how the industrial world is. But I feel that in the sciences, one should try to be correct. It was still possible in these cases. I must say today you need to use the approach that I have in this article from the 1993 Keio Journal of Medicine. In preparing my 1967 Hanbuch Der Physik article on the "Diffraction Grating", regarding quotations, I worked ten years on this. I got...[sotto voce] $1,000. [Laughter] The secretary cost me three times as much. I neglected to insist on a monograph, so it's buried in Volume 29. It was a much more perfect opus than my book here, which sold 45,000 copies [Chuckling] for the first time.
But I worked ten years on this, and I never have had anybody come to me and said, "You should have cited me," or "You didn't cite so-and-so." I cited everybody. Do you know what this means? You have to contact people personally and so on. I'm not just talking about the citation, not exactly the citation index. This is written by me and they know what I said. So-and-so did this, and that, and so on. I went to Russia where it was difficult, and Sweden, and so on, just to get the details.
The question of the interferometric servo-control ruling engines was our pioneering work. As a part of this, the Fourier transform digital program was written. The theory of the wavefront and image relations was part of a formalism, which has just as much to do with any images. Wavefronts are wavefronts and images are images and so on. I set the basis for deconvolution. I realized it at that time already. I must say that the use of Fourier-transform in optics was done independently, by two or three people: George Stroke is one of them. Bracewell in Australia is another one. A radio astronomer and a good friend of mine, Arsac in France is another. I was probably the first one who formally introduced the use of the modern Fourier-transform notation in optics from electrical engineering, although in fairness, I see no difference between radio astronomy and ultrasonic imaging, and the radio astronomers had used Fourier-transforms two or three years before I formally introduced them into optics. In some early conference in the late fifties, we were having a special course in Paris on Saturdays. There were famous radio astronomers and optics people meeting every Saturday, and the students were listening, and they were assured they would get a degree if they only attended. The radio astronomers were covering Fourier- transforms in a language I did not know. So I said, "Is it important?" "Yes," they said, "you have to learn this if you want to advance." So I sat down and learned Fourier-transforms. This is the topic I address here. Do you especially want to ask questions about the history?
Insecurity of George Harrison
Maybe we should come back to your career and follow that through.
In 1960 I got my Ph.D., Docteur és Sciences, at the Sorbonne, and came back to MIT armed with a letter from Harrison. He asked "What are you doing here?" [Chuckling] I said, "I have your letter." He said, "You'll learn something very important. I read this letter differently." [Laughter] This was my first experience of a suspicious person. Back in 1952, after two weeks he called me to his office. I was working down in the basement in the spectroscopy Laboratory at MIT. He was the Dean of Sciences. I came up to his beautiful office. I really liked the man. He said, "George, you are trying to take my place." I said, "Dean Harrison, you're crazy." And that shook him. I said, "Well, it just wouldn't work. I'm trying to do my best in science, you know. Have you forgotten you're Dean of Sciences?" You can imagine the rest. I was the only person in his career who ever became a professor from among his many, many brilliant collaborators. He could not stand it.
He was basically insecure, and my first professorship was as a kind of research assistant professor of physics at Boston University, at the same time I was at the Instrumentation Lab at MIT working on the Polaris. I had just become an American citizen. The dean and the chairman of the department later told me that somehow they never got Dean Harrison's letter of recommendation [Laughter] soon enough. Anyway, I had a good time there as assistant, and they had to give me my professorship in spite of Harrison, not because he helped me. I had had the good luck to know of Professor Emanuel Goldberg; this was during 1943 to 1947, in what was then British Palestine. He was a typical German professor, and had lived for a few years in France. The best chance that you had was to work with a kind of father figure. Not father in the family sense, but similarly. That's how you do things. I thought Harrison and Goldberg had both done well. In 1960 I came back to MIT. Harrison said, "All right. You can work a couple more years here."
There were no financial problems, and I worked at MIT in the Jerry Wiesner Research Laboratory of Electronics with Jerry Zacharias on the velocity of light experiments. At the same time I'd already done an excellent job on the Polaris system. You can ask Fuhrman, who is the president of Lockheed Missile System. In the common literature this kind of thing eludes you. You're not supposed to ever tell what you did. But if you can think back to 1957, this was the one weapon system needed for defense. There was no other defense. It was a very critical time in the United States. As always, by the way, I am not ashamed to have contributed to defense. During the Second World War, for the British Army, we worked on theodolites, optical systems, and rectifiers, and whatnot.
About the Polaris system: I did something called "alignment". This I can tell you from the common literature. There was a problem in the submarine to align the missile toward the Northern Star. I succeeded in doing this. They said if anybody can do it in the United States, it would be George Stroke, and I was drafted into this. I did it! I did this in 1957 and 1958, and then Draper Instrumentation Lab gave me a very high salary — $13,000 per year at that time for doing nothing! That was typical of the military. And, when this key task was finished I became frustrated. It was the only time in my life I developed ulcers. I didn't know what it was. Just being there on call. There's a "PERT" program. I don't know if you're familiar with this. This was a project management program. Ten thousand people were working on this Polaris project under Lockheed management. There was every task in the world.
The compartmentalization between Air Force and Navy — we were Navy — especially fascinated me. [Chuckling] Literally next door in the MIT "Woods Building" was the Air Force! We knew that they were three months ahead, and we were working on a very tight schedule, but there was no way that we could get their information. Still we were highly motivated from the first day's meeting in Washington in the Navy barracks there. I was one of fifty people there. But because it was one of the crucial elements, it was two years until the first launch of the missile from the submarine. Today you sit here, and they plan the planning for two years! [Laughter] Anyway, this was now December 1958, and I had finished my Polaris work. I went back to the Building 6 and got called in by the cashier who said; "Oh, my God! You only get half your check this month." I said, "No, no, no. The salary here is one half." [Laughter] From then on I had developed a reputation for being nuts — as if I were un-American to take half the salary.
Optics Work and MIT
In 1962 I was at MIT, but I wanted to become a professor. I was a consultant at Perkin Elmer at that time. I knew Dick Perkin. I could see that there was no modern optics being taught in universities. I talked with Brian Thompson and Bill Browers and I tried to convince Harvey Brooks at Harvard and Charlie Townes who at that time was already provost at MIT. Everybody said optics should be taught — modern optics, not the Arthur Hardy-type geometrical optics, although I admired the man. We did this for three, four, or five years — writing papers mobilizing the Optical Society and so on — without success. At that time nuclear physics was the big thing, and the realities are that sometimes you have to travel. This seems to be an understandable phenomenon. From a distance you see things clearly. I was in yet another conference in 1961, maybe in Paris again, and was fascinated by yet another meeting of classical optics, of famous people. I went out with somebody else, an Italian friend of mine, Giuliano Toraldo di Francia. I spontaneously said to Guiliano, "I'm getting into electrical engineering." And he said, "That's a great idea! That's the right thing." I went back to MIT and walked into Peter Elias's office. Peter Elias, a Harvard Junior Fellow, had also written an early paper on Fourier-transforms in optics with Robinson, who was then the Science Advisor to one of the presidents, or chief scientist, I forget.
I walked into Peter Elias's office and said, "Peter, I am now an electrical engineer." He said, "Great! Then I can appoint you." It's very important. Today optics is a great thing at Harvard and MIT, in physics and electrical engineering. At that time it was still too early. I was already thirty-seven. He said, "I could appoint you full professor, but not right away. Only associate. You have a one-year associate now. You might languish, and in six, seven years — you never know. It's too risky. I can't. I won't do it." I said, "What's the alternative?" He said, "I make you a lecturer with the rank of full professor." I said, "I don't care. If you say so. I'll take your advice." You have to take advice. I always owed my career to knowing what I wanted, but then having friends. This is very important today. I got my first job through a journalist. I got my top job with the Daimler-Benz Corporation "Deutsche Aerospace". I went to the first one from MBB (Messerschinitt-Böekow-Blohm), where I had spent ten years, to join Deutsche Aerospace. Out of 80,000 people, I was number one. There was Schremp, the chairman, there was his secretary, there was the driver, there was the guard, and there was George Stroke. [Laughter] Now, people say, How did you do it? Well, because I thought two, three years before there was a need for somebody like this. I mobilized everybody and then found a way to one of the Daimler-Benz corporate people. We sold the Executive Vice President, the number two man, on the idea. Anyway, at MIT I took Peter Elias's advice. I said, "All right, I'll become a lecturer." I taught network theory. Already for translating the Fourier-transform formalism into optics, I had translated it from Guillemin. This is mathematics for electrical engineers. I knew Guillemin. So from the topic in his book, it took me three or four or five years to develop what is here in a chapter in my own book, which I can teach in two weeks. Two weeks, it is so compact. There's a mathematical appendix here someplace. The Fourier-transform convolutions, correlations, etc. I developed all the theorems, so you can literally learn to do it, and use it, and can deal with modern optics.
University of Michigan
My friend Leo Goldberg was at the Harvard College Observatory. He was a very famous person who was at one time very closely related to the founding of Kitt Peak Observatory. One day, in a typical American way at a cocktail party, he said, "George, you are going to Michigan." I said, "Where is that?" [Laughter] I am exaggerating. The University of Michigan, he meant. "I have a friend there, Roger Heyns (who was later the chancellor at Berkeley), and you are going to be a professor there." I said, "Great! But, I also need money for my research." "That's no problem! John Strong is retiring, and Charles Babcock is retiring, and Harrison is already retired, so there's no one to do the diffraction gratings. We need the diffraction gratings for the Kitt Peak Observatory and the space program. And you are going to do it." I said, "I'm not interested. I've already worked on it for the Handbuch Der Physik". [Laughter] I said, "Only if there is ten times more money than now." We were receiving $35,000 per year that was quite a lot of money at the time. I said, "It's always one year and one year and one year. That's no way of running a program. It will take ten years for the next ruling engine." He said, "All right. You'll get that." I said, "Well, how do I do it?" He said, "You call up Glazer at the Office of Naval Research," and so on, and Howard Smith, who was later the number two man at NASA. I said, "All right."
So I went to negotiate with Michigan and was appointed as a full professor first in 1962. I could write three books on how to negotiate. [Chuckling] Really, there is such a book about the academic market. [Laughter] I'm admitting this freely. I studied how Michelson had done it, and so on. So everything happened just as in the book. They try to get you cheap. That's how it is. I said, "I want to be a full professor. I don't want to go through the ranks. I know I've done a great deal. I'm quite well known. There are people who are waiting for me to do the ruling engine. I've not time to fight for the career. It's either the whole thing, or nothing." "We'll pay you part of the salary from the Willow Run Research Institute. " This was a famous radar laboratory. I had been a consultant already. This is not unimportant. I was already earning in 1960 $200 per day as a government consultant, which was enormous at that time. Now it's, you know, five thousand or ten thousand dollars per day. So I was well-known there. I had told the guys there, who later made a lot of money in holography, about the mathematical science in wavefront reconstruction [Chuckling]. Besides looking better, it's all very simple. They had needed before to calculate every ray, and you could do this by Fourier-transforms. They'd never heard about it in holography. They really took the whole thing from me. These defense programs; I know how they're run. They propose every year what they did last year, so it's always 100 percent success. If you can live with this, [Chuckling] you are happy. I can't, thank God.
They wanted to give me half my salary through Willow Run. I said, "No. Either you pay my salary full time from the department, or else I don't come. I'm quite happy at MIT." I didn't ask for that job. I was told to go there, and I did so. "Oh, all right. We'll do it." Then I went to Switzerland for a vacation, exhausted. I put all my things which I had in Boston — there were not so many — on a moving truck and went for a vacation. Suddenly I got an express letter in Switzerland, "We are trying to improve your situation." In American that means disaster. [Laughter] They said, "...after all, we are paying you from Willow Run." I said, "No deal. Forget it." I went back to Peter Elias, and said, "Look. You know I have an agreement, and now they are changing it." "All right. I'll take you back for one year. But not more than one year. Then you'll have to look elsewhere." Instead of starting my appointment in 1962, I went back, and I headed the Michelson studies in optics. Michelson was the first American Nobel Prize winner, a great man in optics from Case Western. They wanted him in California, but there was something he didn't like in the agreement. He also didn't take his appointment the first year. There was some irregularity. This was a precedent for me. I didn't want to be the first one. So then I went to Goldberg, and he said to go see Roger Heyns, who was at that point the academic vice president. He said, "Congratulations, George! You did exactly the right thing. I've been trying now for several years to put an order into this thing, and nobody had the courage." Of course it doesn't help you with the department chairman to have the academic vice president and also the president on your side, so to speak. Well, it helps you as long as he is there. I negotiated, I came in, and so I became a professor in 1963. I founded that field of optics in electrical engineering. It was a revolution in America. I've written this up. It's called The Story of Optics in Electrical Engineering since the 1960's: An Example of Innovation.
In a celebration for Professor Marko, who brought me to Germany, I gave the other anniversary, which we are celebrating this year in 1985: "... the 25th anniversary of the introduction of optics into electrical engineering. Or, more particularly, the introduction of the teaching of modern optics as part of the curriculum of the department of electrical engineering and computer sciences in the USA. It was indeed at the initiative of the writer...," and so on, "...that the first such institute in the world was founded under his direction." I was a professor at the University of Michigan from 1963 to 1967.
SUNY Stony Brook
I was at the State University of New York from 1967 to 1978. At the same time I was invited to Harvard from 1970 to 1973 as a visiting professor in their famous medical school. Then in 1978 I came to Germany, and I stayed here. I even became a German citizen, to the shock of all the people. [Laughter] My father lived here. I feel comfortable here. In 1963 when I went to Michigan, the idea struck many people because it opened American-style careers for hundreds of professors. Suddenly people who were capable of teaching modern optics, which is very closely related to electrical engineering from the mathematical point of view, which means X-ray crystallography, which means ultrasonic imaging, and which meant the image processing through filters in the old days. Suddenly electrical engineers, if you wish, only had to learn one additional small element — that you can deal with the knowledge you already have in electrical engineering just extended from one to two dimensions, in optics from lenses and prisms, and to optical processing systems, spectroscopy and radio astronomy and whatnot. It was a great success.
I helped Charlie Townes at MIT to organize, in 1960, the first laser conference in the world. From 1963 we had the summer courses on lasers and holography at Michigan, and I had the money for the diffraction gratings, the ruling engine, which you remember Leo Goldberg wanted me to build at Michigan. I had told my friends in NASA that I really wanted to start a new field, which I called "holography". I said that I would do the gratings, but I would use the money for holography. There should be no misunderstanding, and this would be, if you wish, testing equipment for the gratings. And I said, "By the way, I want ten-years' money, and I want $300,000 per year and not $35,000." They said, "Apply for it." So I got $145,000 from one source, etc., etc. At that time I never wrote a proposal without being assured ahead of time that the money would be there. Can you imagine such times? [Laughter]
I was born in 1924, but I was still working every day as if I had never done anything in my life. I worked day and night and had lots of research money. My friends — my godfathers — are still now in America, and we have good personal relations. Gilbert B. Devey was already a very important person. He introduced biomedical engineering into the USA.
I was a professor for four years in Michigan. Then I went to Stony Brook for two main reasons: One is that I had very high standards of ethics with regard to science. In particular, in holography there was this group in Michigan whom I supported at first in 1960 very strongly, and who, however, wanted to bury Professor Dennis Gabor, who really invented holography singly. I had not met him in 1960. I first met him in 1964.
Gabor was in England at this time?
Imperial College, yes. Later on he spent thirteen years at CBS, sharing an office not bigger than half this room. I met him in 1964, when he was sixty-four. He was going to retire from the Imperial College of Science and Technology. I went to him and said, "You are Gabor, and you know holography." "No, never heard of it." Which of course he had, but he had called it something different, namely "wavefront reconstruction imaging". "Oh, I'm totally not interested in this anymore. I'm doing flat-screen television." At that time, that was his thing. I said, "Yes, but it's an important field, Professor Gabor." He said, "I understand that. But I am going to retire in one year. I have no money in England. I have spent just twenty years as a university professor." I said, "Well, I'll see what I can do." He wrote me a letter. I may have it somewhere in my basement. After my first visit with him — it was in September or October 1964 — he wrote to me, "Dear George, I offer and request collaboration in this field." You know, many people say "I'm a friend of Gabor." There are Gabor Prizes, and many people say they knew him and so on. I can tell you, there is one person who really knew him and was really his friend. Masako, my Japanese wife, knew him many years ago. Then he said when he got the Nobel Prize, "Well, don't say that too loud." He wanted it, of course. He was a great man.
So I revived his interest in holography in 1963 or 1964, and that irritated two people completely, Leith and Upnatnieks who were professors at Michigan whom I had sponsored. I can tell you that they, for patent reasons, were unhappy. These are the facts.
It's a publicly known story. I was still a consultant at Willow Run Radar Lab and a full professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. In 1964, just at the time when I had gone to London to see Gabor, we had finished a paper, myself with Keith. It was really my suggestion. After many hours I said we should look at three-dimensional holography. Leith was trying to demonstrate to me that it could not be done. There were witnesses. He understood nothing. He had no real background in science and mathematics. There are certain levels — the beginning, the middle, and the end — of our story. Today it is the scientific basis of modern technology and engineering not only in "holography", but in its many ramifications, including "optical computing". You cannot do this approximately. He had some formula for how to image a three-dimensional scene on a photographic plate. He understood no electromagnetic theory at all. I said, "Well, there is no such thing as a three-dimensional object when you consider surfaces and non-transparent scenery." He'd never heard of mapping. I said, "It's called mapping." What we call three-dimensional is the surface. Now this three-dimensional area surface, you don't see inside of the wall. By the way, there is a public discussion of this by Toraldo di Francia, who was at that time the president of the Italian Physical Society and a great friend of mine, at a conference during that time in Rome. Around that same period he publicly said, "George, you are wrong, you know? You cannot." And he understood electromagnetic theory. "You cannot image a three-dimensional scene," and then he explained why. I said, "Well, but here is an example."
So this work was not trivial. I finally convinced these Michigan "characters" and my own students. This is all in my holography book. In there is the famous 3-D scene which I had arranged, and there were little objects before it, and I said, "The photograph of this is the hologram." I did the experiment. One of my own students did the experiment with me. I went shortly after that on a trip as a professor, traveling a great deal. The paper was going to be published in the Journal of the Optical Society. When I came back I could not enter the lab any more. I've had secret clearance all my life, for all entrances and whatnot, from a very high branch of the Pentagon, not just for Polaris. Bob Stone, who was the Chief of the Navy, and General Lew Allen. I knew him when he was assistant to Harry Davis, the Deputy of Secretary of Defense, when they called me in for some very special project, which I solved for them at no cost. He became head of the National Security Agency. Then he became Chief of Staff of the Air Force. But he had asked some brilliant questions when he was Harry Davis's assistant. They had some questions of synthetic imaging in optics, which I solved. Took out the patent after checking with Edwin Land and so on. Research just requires such high-level, highly-informed friends, and full confidence in them, by the way; I have no difficulty with this. Then Colonel Allen asked some very good questions. Later when the biographies of these people became publishable, I learned that General Lew Allen had a Ph.D. in mathematics and a Ph.D. in physics. No wonder! [Laughter] He was such a good character!
Anyway suddenly I couldn't enter the lab at Willow Run. I smelled something fishy. I was bringing everything to work. So I thought, "Oh, my God! They are going to publish the paper without me!" Now, this is a big thing. So I called up David McAdam, the head of the Optical Society of America's journal, and I said, "Listen, what's the story? Is the paper in? I was on a trip." "Yes, the paper is in." "And my name?" "No, your name is not on it." For six months I fought. I could not stop the paper from being published without my name. Although I published the things before that. It's not a very beautiful story, but such stories happen.
I have many, many good scientific friends. This Professor Dr. Jacquinot I mentioned to you. I say this as an aside. In 1952 when I had observed Harrison. I'd just come to MIT from Europe, and I was twenty-eight, and he was already a big professor. He came as a visitor, and I walked along the Charles River and said, "Professor Jacquinot, can you have a career without walking over bodies?" He said, "Well, Monsieur Stroke, I did it, but it's very, very rare and very tough." I said, "Well, that's the way I'm going to choose." It's not naive, it's not admirable, it's just a decision. [Laughter] I prefer not to walk over bodies. So these people, you know, decided to walk over Gabor, and they wanted to get the patent and whatnot, and then I could not get the paper recalled. So I said, "Well, I will just continue doing good work," to Jacquinot, who said, "You cannot fight these things". I mean, some people fight their whole life. One person, Ernst Ruska, got the Nobel Prize when he was almost eighty in electron microscopy. Gabor wanted to make sure Ruska got it, but then he couldn't enjoy it anymore. I said, "That's not my way."
So I said, "All right. These guys are a problem. Now, I can open the lab." I had the brilliant idea of putting their lab next to my lab. In a university lab, everybody has every key. They were very productive, I can tell you that. They had an army of people. They were defense-funded, and I was non-defense-funded. I had argued successfully, by the way, with my godfather, and John Ide, who was the director of engineering at the NSF in 1962, to keep this new field of "holography" as an open non-classified, scientific activity in the USA. I go back to this because it has to do with my career. I came to Michigan. I'd studied the literature. I'd been in the MIT Instrumentation Lab during the time of Sputnik. I had predicted Sputnik; it's on record. It was quite easy. It was an International Geophysical Year. Mathematics/physics was a prestigious activity in the world in the Fifties. I asked myself what would I do if I were Russian? If I had little money and wanted to make some dramatic achievement? I would hope to do something in the area where I am stronger — where the Russians traditionally are strong — ballistics and mathematics. It was the International Geophysical Year in Rome at that time. I had read in many, many hundreds of proposals about what came to be the "Sputnik". So I put two and two together and I came to the conclusion that the Russians are going to put up this "Sputnik". People said "Ah, you're crazy!" Well, I wasn't so crazy. I'm saying I could see this prestige height. That was in 1957, the "Sputnik".
- Audio File
- MP3 Audio
So, coming now to holography. I had continued reading the Russian papers in translation. I have no difficulty in reading Russian, but not enough to read the literature. Somewhere I read a paper by a man named Denisyuk who has already since then won the Gabor Prize. He published in 1962 in the famous "Doklady...", an article on the wavefront reconstruction imaging applied to radar and sonar, something which was top secret still five or six years later with these guys in Michigan. So I went to the NSF and said, "Listen, do we want to have a second Sputnik? Or do you want to fund this field?" The name "holography," I coined it myself to honor Gabor who had invented holograms. I proposed this at a lecture in the Somerset Hotel in Boston, not in a journal. Otherwise it would not be accepted. I said, "It would be nice to call it holography." I searched three months for the word. I went to John Ide at NSF and I gave this argument. I said, "Listen, I think this is going to be a big field. If you bury it in the military, you keep it secret from the American scientists. You can do that very well. But you cannot stop the Russians. They are onto it already." I said, "I can read it in this paper. You never know with open science. It puts many unknown brains to work. Even without the military, they'll find enough to do." They accepted it and said, "Make us a proposal." I immediately wrote a proposal with this fellow Leith, and I got the first grant. Then when the grant came, because they were already aiming at taking something away, they asked that his name be taken off, and this would have meant another round. But then I had the chancellor and whatnot, friends, intervene. I didn't have time to make another application. I said, "Well, you know, we must work fast." We beat the Russians by three months. Also the white-light reflection holograms. [Passes Aspray a hologram] Here, you can't see it very well, but I invented that also. You really need an electric bulb or the sun. But you can see a little bit. It's nothing but a three-dimensional grating.
Holography Race & White-Light Reflection
When you say you beat the Russians by three months, what specifically do you mean?
We kept them from making holography into a Sputnik. Americans were working on holography. The Russians had Sputnik. It's no use being the second, you know. Although there was Redstone or whatever missile that the U.S. shot up with a satellite weeks or months after the Sputnik, what remains in the public mind is who was there first. That's human nature. Who was the name of the second man who climbed Mount Everest? Whether this is justice is just a matter of conjecture. I was invited to Russia. I have published books together with the Russians. We organized scientific conferences. My book was translated into Russian months after I wrote it. This was the first book on holography in Russia. Because I had cited Denisyuk very correctly, it was translated by a Russian. They respected me. The Russians always respected strength. If you were stronger, they would respect you even more. I beat the Russians to the public existence of the new field now called holography. I deliberately coined the name to cover it. They told me I was in the public image. Well, of course, Gabor wrote the paper in 1948. Later, the father of Joan Baez, A.V. Baez, worked on holography. El-Sum, an Egyptian friend of mine in California, worked on holography. Between 1948 and 1962, the revival of holography, there were many papers on trying to do electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction imaging using holographic principles before the lasers. One of the papers was by this famous Denisyuk who had set the basis for this type of holography using the three-dimensional layers, however not in white light. I was the first one to recognize that you could reconstruct the holograms not with laser light, which is the recording process almost invariably, but with white light.
I call it white-light reflection. These were white-light holograms according to using the Lippmann and Bragg diffraction. Bragg had done something about crystals, and Lippmann was a Frenchman who had done the famous Lippmann color photography. You can see in the Palais de la Décourvete in Paris, the most beautiful Lippmann photographs, if you ever go there. I recommend them to you. They were also just interference photographs, and my white-light reflection holograms are a combination of a three-dimensional layer which acts as a filter for the white light if you want to, and the color is then reconstructed because the layers are recorded in depths of half the wavelength, corresponding to the local wavelength of the recording. That was one of the many innovations.
Attempt to Bribe Gabor
Coming back to my career, this all happened in 1963 and 1964. This paper came one year after that. So I was cut out of my own paper. Later these characters tried to bribe Gabor. I brought Gabor to the United States. Peter Goldmark of CBS Laboratories gave him a lifetime consulting contract. They both came from Austro-Hungary. Peter Goldmark died in a car accident. I was his consultant for thirteen years in Stamford, Connecticut, together with Gabor who called me in. I later made Gabor a visiting professor at Stony Brook with a full year's salary for giving one paper a week. This was before the Nobel Prize. I had then made it possible for Gabor to reenter the field, which he would have reentered, I suppose, anyway. He didn't want to, but that's now history. He was in America half a year, so he could get a tax-free salary. There's some kind of rule like this. $20,000 tax-free per year was quite a lot for him. He could live on this. We shared the office every day per week in Stamford from 1967. But before that he came to Michigan. I could invite anybody there. People would come, and I had enough funds for this. American-style.
Leith wanted to bribe Gabor. It's a sad story, but it shows you how far the people went. They wanted to exploit this for patent fees. Now they have done something very gauche. I was once an expert witness. This was in the U.S. District Court in Hartford — not a pleasant experience — in a patent case for CBS, which they lost because it was poorly introduced. The Michigan people had applied for a patent two years after they had published not the three-dimensional but the two-dimensional imaging in the Journal of the Optical Society. Now you know that you cannot apply for a patent more than one year after you publish. In Europe there's no publication allowed at all. So now what do they do then? This later came out, out of that whole packet, why? Because one day the IBM and Bell Labs top patent attorneys were in my office together. They asked me about the patent. I said, "Well, you get me the patent file, then I can tell you already you have no case, and just go ahead and don't worry." The patent was not valid because in the process of writing back and forth to the Patent Office, they had sworn they had never published what in fact they had published. Then their big claim in that patent — it was the same story; science is also not elegant — that they supposedly never published the reconstruction, just the recording. That was pure nonsense. You know a little bit about holography. Holography means recording and reconstruction basically.
Around 1964 they wanted to bribe Gabor, who was a poor man financially. He was one of the Old School. I remember meeting him in that motel on the outskirts of Ann Arbor that day. He said, "Wow! They're giving me $10,000 to sign this affidavit." I said, "Listen, Dennis. If you sign this, remember Faust; you've sold your soul." I said, "If you want to do it, I can't stop you, but if you need the $10,000, I'll give it to you. You want $20,000, I'll give it to you. And you owe me nothing. But one day you are going to get the Nobel Prize. You are a scientist. This way you'll be under pressure for the rest of your life. Don't do it." He didn't do it, and the patent was found to be invalid. But this is how desperate people are when they want to get money and not science. These people wanted to have it both ways. So you can see that the grounds were not so tenable for me at Michigan, tenure or no tenure.
Stony Brook and Anti-Semitism
Nobody pushed me over the cliff, I can assure you. [Chuckling] It would have been impossible. But one day Roger Heyns told me, "I'm going to Berkeley." I said, "Well, Roger, then I'm packing my suitcases." [Chuckling] That's how things work, if you're so highly sponsored. There were some other things that helped him greatly. I called up everybody. At that time it was not so very difficult. I could have come to George Washington, but I was too honest. I had already said to John Toll, my friend and President of SUNY-Stony Brook, "Okay, I'm coming." I had signed nothing. I would have preferred to go to George Washington because of the medical school. But C.N. Yang, already a physics Nobel Prize winner, and Ed Pellegrino, later President of the Catholic University of America, were at Stony Brook. C.N. Yang and Pellegrino, the Dean of the Medical School, wanted an engineer at that level. I negotiated for everything except my salary, [Laughter] even though it was not so bad. Then I moved the lab. I moved in 1967 and stayed for more than ten years at Stony Brook, and again founded the same lab. I took my own equipment. You know, that was the style. You could negotiate.
Those were the great days of Stony Brook, too.
Yes. Those were the great days of Stony Brook. [Chuckling] Again, it's amusing, I am not religious at all, nor were my parents, but they both were born from Jewish parents. So it was evident. But I never held much of it. I live very comfortably in Germany. In fact, I had everything in Stony Brook already, and then I had bought land in the most beautiful part there, Oldfield, next to the house of Ed Pellegrino. He moved many times. He was the dean of the medical school at Stony Brook, then he was the Yale Medical School dean, and then he went to become President of the Catholic University of America. He is one of those medical doctors who is a great human being. He reads poetry in Latin and Greek. They were still happy in the great days in Stony Brook.
Suddenly I got the deed, in which it says this land cannot be sold to Jews. [Chuckling] I don't tell this to many people, but you would never find a paper like this in Germany today. I'm not seeing it either rosy or naive, but there are such things. So I told John Toll. "Forget it. I'm not coming." You remember I am quite flexible when it comes to not coming. He said "No! Don't take it so seriously. I mean, you know, this is Melville, the same person." I said, "John, listen. I came to America of my own free will." He said, "You'll get something. It means nothing." I said, "Absolutely not. They don't advertise something, which doesn't exist with me and Jewishness. It means really nothing to me. I'm not saying it's good or it's bad. It just happens to be that way." But I said, "No. I won't sign papers because you should arrange it with your mayor to give me a different paper, or I am not coming." Well, I got a different paper, so I did come. Stony Brook was a great place. John Toll later became President of the University of Maryland. I was there ten, eleven years.
Moving to Germany
Then through one of the many visits, I came to the point that somehow I wanted to live somewhere where the German language in which I was brought up was spoken. This is a very strange thing. It was worth more to me than anything else. I had left Yugoslavia in 1938. It could have been Switzerland, Austria, or Germany. But then my father lived in Munich. I had several French but also several German students, and had good relations with Siemens. I used to visit Deutschland, and came here often. We were invited by Bayer one day to come. Ten years before I came here — that was around 1968, you know, we came to Köln. My wife is Japanese. She's twenty-four years younger than I am and she said, "I want to live here." I said, "Yes, that's what I want, too." She was born in Kyoto. It took us ten years to get here. Luck comes to those who can recognize it when it happens to be there. Ten years I was looking for a chance to come to Germany. I was certainly not an economic refugee of any kind. At that time I had been a consultant to John Reed for seven years. He's still Chairman of Citicorp today. [Chuckling] That was one of the consultantships. It was a good position. One day I met one of the assistants of Professor Dr. Hans Marko in Berlin because I was listening to a lecture by one of his people. I said, "My God! What a wonderful lecture! Who is that guy?" He said, "He works for me." I said, "Who are you?" [Laughter] He said, "I work for Marko. Come and see me." I said, "I have no time." "Well, maybe on the way to Uem." Then when I came to Munich I said, "I would give my left hand to be in Munich."
So he arranged for me to get a Humboldt Prize. This is a is this senior scientist award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I missed every sabbatical in my life. Just no time. So it happened that there was a good chairman in Stony Brook at that time. I said, "I would like for a short term to take a sabbatical." I came in January 1978 to Munich as a guest professor and Humboldt Prize holder, which means they pay your whole salary, my American salary. So we simply stayed here. I did my job. The university system in Germany is different. Later on, they offered me a professorship. In fact, they offered me a professorship during that time in Tübingen. Five or six years they had been talking with me, a mathematically trained, Japanese-speaking old physics professor there. I was going to be the successor of Professor Möllenstedt. It's an honest and goodness, a rare case of a real "Berufung" as they call it in German. Usually you apply, but if they pick you, and they tell you they want you to be their professor, are you prepared to go through the ritual formal application? Two or three years can go by in the process. I said, "If it means no work for me, why not?"
It was a very good position. I sent in my paper on a Saturday. On Sunday or Monday he called me and said "You are fifty-four? Appointments after fifty-five are impossible. And we can't get it in one year because after ten years then you get full pension." This is a wonderful thing in Germany. Full pension! Full salary for life. I didn't ask for it. I told them, "Thank you very much for trying." I then met with somebody from MBB at some conference at the German DFLR, which is similar to NASA. I can give good lectures. It's a little bit of theater, but you have to be theatrical as a professor, and I was. I developed the equations and all that without really showing previously prepared viewgraphs. That always impresses people. [Laughter] You can do it. I can do it, of course. If you drink some beer, it's how well you can do it, too. They asked me, "Why not lecture? We need some person like you as a consultant." So what did I do about this? I wrote a letter to the president, Professor Madelung, a famous person. He comes from the Messerschmitt family, and his wife is a Bosch. I just saw him a couple of days ago. He's a low-key person. He is now a professor, but he was the president of MBB. I said, "Somebody said I could be your consultant. I really want to stay in Germany." I got a consultant job for three months, then another three months, then another three months, until I said, "I want to stay here."
So in 1979 I was a consultant there for some months, and then I got a very poor appointment because I had no idea what I could ask for. I didn't ask for these leading positions, which I'd had at twenty-four in France. They said, "You're overqualified." They were scared of me. You know, if you read my list of publications, I had about 150 papers in the literature. I wrote in all the leading peer-reviewed journals, Science, and whatnot. I don't know how many talks, how many books. I said, "I don't care. The title, it doesn't matter." So I became a kind of employee. I was in the corporate headquarters. On paper I had a title like Chief Scientist, which means nothing. But I was really in the corporate headquarters, concerned with stimulating, controlling and funding development, doing exactly what I wanted to do. Within ten days I went to Stony Brook and gave up the house, which was rented anyway. My wife didn't ever go back since to the United States, except for these ten days. We packed everything, sent over whatever was here, between Christmas of 1979 and the 11th of January 1980, and I became an employee.
Work on Holography at Stony Brook
Before we go on and talk more about MBB, maybe you can tell me about your scientific work during your period at Stony Brook.
During my period at Stony Brook I continued my main scientific research in the area of holography. I had one aim in holography, and this was to image atoms in crystals, which I succeeded in doing. This is how I started in holography, and in this paper which I am going to give you, you will see that I finally succeeded in really getting images of atoms in crystals. These are not very good reprints. These are actual images of atoms in a crystal, of a crystal called magnesium bromide tetrahydrofuran-complex. This is one section. These are not drawn by hand. How did it get such a high signal-to-noise ratio? Very simple, because in a crystal, by definition, the same molecule is repeated in an ordered crystalline state — for example, 10,000 superimposed molecules. That is everything. My case in crystallography, no matter what. This was a major achievement. This is actual crystallography. For ten years I was concentrating at Stony Brook not on the simple imaging aspects of holography, all the popular things, although we did these beautiful white-light holograms. From Stony Brook I went to Bell Labs to produce these holograms, where Lin, Pennington, Stroke and Labeyrie did the first color holograms. White-light reflection colored holograms because they had the Argonne laser I didn't have. I had good relations at Bell Labs, of course, so we did the experiment there and then published in the Bell System Technical Journal, which had colored photographs which cost them $5,000. They were horrified.
As I said, the imaging aspect of holography, which you hear most about, I did, but considered it much less scientifically important than applications of holography using very strong mathematical and scientific backup mathematics, through this formula which I showed to you. I had set myself two goals, one which I already started in Michigan. From the beginning, I wanted to get X-ray images using holography. I'll tell you why. Bragg already did X-ray diffraction images, and Holloway did, and so did other people. Doctors had heard about this. But these were only the special class of centro-symmetrical crystals. More usual cases were considered really impossible if you knew the mathematics. Because of the so-called phase problem. If you record a diffraction pattern, whether it's in X-rays or in light or whatever, if you want to have it retrievable, you must record the amplitude and the phase of the electric field vectors. The importance of the phase and the way it runs is very strongly illustrated by this example which I showed you. You can get an image in color by recording the phase. No amplitude at all. This I recognized very much earlier. It was also controversial. If you look at this window here, where the hologram would be recorded: it looks uniformly "white". It's the Fourier-transform of what happens to be on this window, the wavefront, right? If I put the paper on this, it's completely white. The Fourier transform of it however isn't only white; that is to say, uniform amplitude wavefront still produces an image in three dimensions in color. So it's not difficult to conclude that the information, the imaging information, is entirely contained in the phase, not just partially. I need above all to record the phase. I recognized this very early. Like all very, very deep insights, it's very difficult for somebody to understand very simple insights, which are very deep.
Crystallography & Image Deconvolution
I'll tell you about the crystallography. I achieved it. The other thing that I wanted to do was to make sharp images out of unsharp images, to deblurr photographs. I first proposed this in Michigan and published the only paper in my career without an experimental proof. I always criticized my friends for that. I said, "It's easy to just look at my experiments." The famous theoreticians at MIT used to irritate all the experimentalists who'd come down and publish a theoretical paper while these poor experimentalists were still struggling to get some atomic beam resonance experiment or whatnot. I criticized my friends. I said, "It's easy to state a theory because you're never completing the work. But if you have to test it with experiments, that's something different. I can do the theory, too, That's not difficult." Coming back to image deconvolution, there'd been some precedents. Professor Maréchal in France, with whom I had studied already, was an engineer who had done some special cases of deconvolution. There were some papers. I'm saying this with complete modesty, you know. It is the final form, where you don't solve just a partial problem but a complete problem that has a greater importance than some partial solution. In that class of partial solutions there were some experiments which had been forgotten by most people, but I had not forgotten them.
When I came to Michigan, I proposed that I would deblur images. I had already prepared the Handbuch Der Physik article on "Diffraction Gratings" showing that this was necessary. If I could not get good gratings, I had noted that the full imaging information was contained in these diffraction patterns, so at least I should get these diffraction patterns. It occurred to me that if you consider the convolution integral, which forms an image, when recording this image incoherently, it is in fact the convolution of the true light intensity of the distribution in the optical scene with the diffraction pattern, the impulse response function. It was already then clear to me that it was not necessary for the impulse-response function (i.e. the image of a point in the scene) to be a point. It's a Bessel function, the square, for example, in the case of a circular aperture. I said there was absolutely no difference in my mind between the Bessel function or something which has another, more complicated, function. If you can bear with me, this is one of these more complicated diffraction patterns. Here the spectrum is a convolution of the impulse response function with what it's supposed to be. I can tell you frankly that a University of Michigan friend, a professor of astronomy (at that time, Oren Moore was the chairman of the astronomy department) came to me and said: "George, there must be something that you misunderstood. You are going to blame us all, make us all lose face. You know, it's impossible. A blurred image is a blurred image." I did it, with a brilliant student named Dick (Richard) Zech. His parents had come from Munich, as I learned only after I had lived here ten years. One day he wrote to me and I replied to him, asking "By the way, is Zech a German name?" He said, "Yes." He's now American. So we published a paper and then demonstrated it. We showed that we could make sharp images out of blurred photographs.
Some early experiments, I think, are in this book. It's very important. That is, different from decorrelation you use for pattern recognition, as used by the Michigan group, for example in radar work. The people try to bury it, the bigger thing. Correlations and convolutions are very similar mathematically, but the physics is very different. In the Fourier-transform plane, you can divide the spectra: then you do the convolution. Quite different from this is the correlation of it for pattern recognition purposes: then you multiply the spectra. But I was really the one who then brought the deconvolution to a fine degree and continued it at Stony Brook. The most important part then was to do the imaging of atoms. I can summarize it here if you look at this. This paper is readable, by the way. I really wanted to deal primarily with the problem of 20,000 scientific and technical publications each and every day in the world! I buried it between medicine, medicine at the beginning and medicine at the end. [Chuckling] But there are some examples so that the people hear how difficult it is. X-ray crystallography resulted in my being able to get this image — and I needed it to do crystallography at Stony Brook — the sections of a much larger molecule, about 14,000 atoms turkey egg-white eysozyme. When I started this, already crystallography's main Nobel Prize winners were good friends of mine. Kendrew invited me many times to talk about this in Cambridge. He later founded the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. He is a Nobel Prize winner. My friend Aaron Klug got the Nobel Prize for electron microscopy. He cited some of my holography methods. He was the ideal friend. I'm saying it without reservations.
At that time, and still probably today in some different forms, you got the crystal sample preparation, the computer servo-controlled X-ray diffractometer, and then carried out a triple Fourier summation. You got electron density maps. People used to draw them by hand and then construct models from this. About two years was typical for a large protein molecule, and enough to earn a Nobel Prize. This image was obtained in two hours, from the crystal to the actual print. This was the highlight of my achievement in holography in Stony Brook. I wrote the paper when I had just arrived here in Munich. I sent it to Aaron Klug, who two years later got the Nobel Prize. He said, "George! It's fantastic! But you're going to have no appreciation with the crystallographers. You're putting them out of business. So they will ignore the thing." Which they did. You know, it's like in production, or the enormous increase of productivity. This is fantastic for those who sit on the sales side or on the producing side. But for the poor employees, it's a catastrophic disaster. So it's the same thing. It's a major scientific achievement. I'm saying this as a scientist, not because it's my own work.
Most of it is the culmination of my work in Stony Brook. I published it in Optik in 1978 and it was published in Science and got into the newspapers. It got in the wrong form in some newspapers. But in Time Magazine, for example, I have a good friend, Leon Jarov. He used to be the science editor. The world's first magazine article on holography was in April 1966 in Time. Leon Jarov came from Michigan. We worked one month on it. It concerned these white-light holograms I told you about with Bell Labs. It was done very secretly. But they came and photographed. The interview was very, very thorough. We worked one month on the article, and you don't know until the last moment — Friday at that time — if the piece will appear or not since there was no computer composing on the floor. They compose the issue, and suddenly something happens, say Hussein gets assassinated, and out goes the holography. But I insisted at that time. I said, "Look, you can do whatever you wish. But I want to be sure that the names of my friends at Bell Labs are in because I don't want to make enemies, you know. We did the work together." He read it to me over the phone, it was correct. Then he wrote one on image convolution, and he published another article.
They called this the "Stroke projection" in crystallolography's connection because it is mathematically very complicated. It uses the entire apparatus of Fourier domain projection theorems. In the three-dimensional section a projection of the Fourier space produces a section in the image space. Crystallography has something to do with the third dimension, it was done with collaborators, but I did the mathematical work by myself because, for example, there are coordinate transformations. The crystallographers may have once studied this. There were vectors. You usually do this over a weekend. In any event, I solved it. I wanted to be sure, and then we verified. That's the beauty of the thing. It's poorly reproduced there, but you can go to the original article. Of course we did it the classical, conventional way. Now you can draw these maps by computer. We found the complete identity of what the projection was like. The thing is trivially simple in practice, in contrast to theory. That is the beauty of it. Can you imagine that these are little holograms? It represents the amplitude of each diffraction spot in the Fourier space. The position is the phase. The density represents the amplitude. You do this by step-and-repeat camera. You shine a laser light through it, and you have an image. It goes with the speed of light.
This and the image deconvolution were the two major achievements in my scientific work. In America you are lucky in the sense that you don't have to teach the way a German professor does. I'm a born teacher and I like it, but I cannot do fund-raising, do science, give the lecture perfectly all at the same time, and then teach. In Michigan I taught the courses for four years, and did the lectures by myself. In Stony Brook I had very brilliant, good assistants who liked the teaching and who saw this as a great chance. So I had time to do the science. I had very good assistants, this I must emphasize, and they are all cited. Gabor criticized that I put everybody and his friend in my paper. The boss, Gabor, said, "You shouldn't do this; only cite the professor. You thank the others." I said, "No." Then he said, "Times have changed." I also mentioned Zech, and I mentioned the other people. They worked as real team members. They were graduate assistants first. Most of them became professors. They were highly paid. They had to work seven days a week, and only when the work was finished would they then go on a vacation. They were a small team, ten people. Never more. There was a single lab. Everybody had to help the other guy, whether he asked for help or not. Anybody who tried to go it alone was out. I had two cases of this. It broke my heart. Within hours they were out. I really insisted on team work, and if somebody would say something.... Like a doctor, I said, "My God! You'd better take some pill or better do this. You don't refuse the help from the doctor." That was the idea.
Interest in Medicine
Well, how did I come to medicine? I always had an interest in medicine because I wanted to become a doctor. The next best thing is that I had medical friends. I have always been very interested in cancer research. I was a consultant to the board of directors of the American Cancer Society. I helped them spend money, during the post-Vietnam times. They are good people. I then introduced ultrasonic diagnostic into America. This was truly a "blue ribbon" task force. I was interested in the use of ultrasonic diagnostics and hoped it would work in the prostate. It turns out it does not. But you could not know it at that time. We had Ed David, who was at that time Science Advisor to President Nixon. L. Branscom was head of the National Bureau of Standards.
NSF Committee on Ultrasonic Imaging
To make a long story short, he said, "We have to save some money and try to spend it this year, and we want to spend some seed money." I proposed the topic: "How to translate the results of academic and industrial research into marketable products". Yes, it's one of my interests. And how much money was there? Well, three million dollars for the project. I said, "All right." I was at CBS, and I said to a friend of mine who knew President Nixon, "We'll do ultrasonic diagnostics. I don't understand why it's used in Germany, Japan, and England, but not in America". He said, "It sounds like a good idea." So he set up a commission, a Blue Ribbon Task Force. I published a report in a book I edited on this topic. Seitz, president of Rockefeller University, was the chairman. Dennis Gabor, Nobel Prize laureate and my good friend, was a member. My godfather at NSF, Gil Devey, was a member, and so was this fellow from CBS, John Maniello. I was in fact the secretary. Pellegrino was also on the commission.
There were ten people. They asked, "How are you going to do it?" I said, "Well, it's easy. We're going to make a world survey. On what to say about ultrasonic diagnostics and why it's not used in the United States, and see what we can do." We had three months to do this. They said, "How are you going to do that?" I said, "It's easy. I'll call up everybody by phone. I'll say we are making a world survey. We have this high-grade group. If you let us visit with you for half a day or one day, you'll get the final executive report. This is an offer you can't refuse." [Chuckling] So we split up. I went to Germany and Japan. Some other people went to Australia, and so on. Then came the moment of truth. I visited many doctors. I was on medical faculties. I had no difficulty seeing them. I was at Roswell Park where I had some skin cancer treated. I asked them why don't you use ultrasonic? They said, "Oh, well, these instruments are no good." And you got the same story everywhere in the U.S.A.
On Sunday my friend, John Maniello, said we must present the report on Monday to the Executive Office of the President. It was not Hillary Clinton, but it was Guyford Stever, Science Advisor to the President and head of the NSF. On a Sunday, what could we do? I finally called up the dean of the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. He was not a member of the commission. I said, "This just doesn't make sense. Everybody uses ultrasonic instruments. We went to Japan. They use it for the prostate, the breast, and everything. It's a very beautiful instrument, nuclear instrument. The Scots and the Dutch are using it, and an Austrian invented it. But in America everybody tells me it's no good. I said, "Why is this?" He said, "You understand nothing." I said, "That's exactly what I told you now. I understand nothing. You are quite right." He said, "In America, ultrasonic instruments are used by the radiologists. They have more work than they can do, and they earn more money than they need. They cannot refuse an instrument on the basis of saying they don't want more work because they don't need more money. So they tell you the instrument is no good." "Ah, that's a problem I can solve," I said. "I have an M.D. friend in the Veterans' Administration, who always wanted to get ultrasound used."
In the end, I lost the chance to become a consultant after initiating the project at the Veterans' Administration. He dropped me. Smith was the name of the man who also believed in ultrasonic instruments. He had a retirement job there as an internist. I called him up. I said, "Listen, I have an idea. If you want to manage ultrasonic, find me five guys at the Veterans' Administration who don't recognize my name. They're government employees, and we are going to offer them each $500,000. You find them on computers. A $100,000 for the instrument. Then the boss will come say, 'Wow!" Then he has $100,000 for administration costs. Right? So he is all for it. Then somebody will say there is no space. The boss then gets $100,000 for installation costs, $100,000 for equipment, and $100,000 for the system. And they are going to demonstrate that it works." The rest you can imagine yourself, and it worked. Now it's a big business in America. Some instruments are Japanese, some American, but ultrasonic diagnostics is a big business now in America. It's a success story, and I moved this along.
What year was this, and what was the name of the committee?
It was the NSF Blue Ribbon Task Force on Ultrasonic Imaging, 1973-74. And it was Guy Stever. He was the Science Advisor to the president and head of NSF. Of course we knew each other at that time. I was a good horse, remember, in holography. [Laughter] I never considered myself anything else but a good horse, you know. If I'm good, and they look good, it's a symbiosis of some sort. So Stever knows about this commission. It's published in a book by Plenum Press, 1975 or so, "Ultrasonic Imaging and Holography: Medical, Sonar, and Optical Applications" in the Proceedings of the Ultrasonic U.S.-Japan Science Cooperation Conference in Hawaii. It's a thick book, of which I am the editor along with Winston Kock, who was at that time Director of the NASA Electronics Research Center in Cambridge, and then Bendix vice president. A good friend, we organized many conferences together. But it was the NSF Blue Ribbon Task Force on Ultrasonic Imaging. That thing, if you ever need it, is in that book published by Plenum Press, which doesn't sell so well like this. [Laughter]
But I did this on the side. My main interest was scientific, but at the same time I was doing a great deal of good professional consulting, including with Gabor and CBS. Mostly defense, and also medical. At Harvard I did three-dimensional microscopy with the famous M.D. surgeon, Professor Jack Burke. Two or three years ago he achieved world fame in artificial skin. He's a world-famous person at the Shriners' Burn Institute. From time to time, maybe every four or five years, I went in if there was some problem with surgery. He's an exceptionally good surgeon, and he had $100 million for his artificial skin. He's at the Shriners' Burn Institute with some guy at MIT that produced a real artificial skin for burns. It's terribly important. At some point during that period we were thinking of these white-light holograms for studying blood flow in capillaries because they had to connect it. After one year of this joint NSF-sponsored work, he said, "Well, the dean now says you have to be a professor here, or else we cannot apply together." You know, if I'd really wanted to be a professor at Harvard, I would have never gotten it. That was three years. I said, "Oh, what would I have to do? Because now there's more work." He said, "No. You just have to say yes." I said, "Yes, yes, yes." [Laughter] It's funny, isn't it? Things that you really would like to have, you don't get. And things that you don't so much aspire to, they come.
Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm (MBB)
Let's then move to MBB. Maybe before you talk about your own work at MBB, you can give me a couple of minutes of overview about the company, what it was doing, and how it came about. Because it's not so well known in the United States.
Well, MBB was called Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm. Messerschmitt is a very famous, well established name in Germany in aerospace, and the company was founded by Dr. Bölkow. Maybe in the fifties when Germany still could not have any airplane production, Bölkow was a member of the Messerschmitt team. He was a real aircraft designer, but is an example of a real entrepreneur like Ford, Matsushita in Japan, or Siemens. He is really a personality. At first he made a consulting business exactly like Dick Perkin of Perkin Elmer, who was first also a consulting business. And then Perkin had to start producing, he told me. They started producing. He found some financier, I think. He's a good fund-raiser and a very convincing entrepreneur. Blohm was some family I think from Hamburg which also joined, minority stock. So Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm finally first came into being in Munich, although it was started in Stuttgart. It gradually incorporated all previous famous German aerospace companies, except Dornier. It was a major achievement. Early enough Bölkow — that's perhaps the key remark to be made — recognized the importance of cooperating with France. Remember, I had grown up in France, and so I have great sympathy for this. Adenauer and de Gaulle is an historical event, you remember. During the same time Blohm recognized this. Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm very soon started to cooperate in both the air force and missile business with France.
Remarkably, Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm when I came to join them first as a senior advisor, had an aircraft transportation division, a helicopter division, a marine division, a missile division, and a satellite division for communications satellites. They were the only company, I think, in the world, which had such a broad spectrum. It was truly a remarkable company. Like all aerospace companies in Europe and America at that time, it would always be asked to do something, it never had to fight for money. As an aside: this is the reason why the German industry as a whole is in such great trouble today. I'm saying this after talking yesterday again with my eighty-two-year-old friend who is a former chairman of the largest German steel corporation, and who founded it. He is a lawyer and a good friend. We're in the Max Planck Society together. He tells me that German industry, strangely enough, is not capable of dealing with crisis. They are extremely good when things go well, but when they face a crisis, they are not prepared. There are people who look good and talk nice and so on, but really don't know how to be entrepreneurs or to get money except when the government comes and says, "Build me a missile." They say, "Well, we are too busy now. But, you know, we'll think about it." I must say that they are the same kind of people you find in the United States, too. That's what Professor Abraham Zaleznik, our colleague from Harvard who is not very popular, says is the difference between leadership and management. The leadership is the one percent, like in the scientists, Townes-type people. The ninety-nine percent that are followers, and with some examples that we cited before, usually push you out of business. So Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) was a famous aerospace company when I entered. You wanted to know the background. I can give you additional background. They worked very successfully on the Airbus. The history of the Airbus is a French initiative, a personal initiative.
When I came to MBB you could still see parking lots from Boeing and Hughes at MBB. Boeing was part of Airbus. This is maybe not so well known. They went out of the participation due to what you could call arrogance at that time. Or underestimating a little bit the French-German initiative (there are some British and some Spanish and some Italian, but it is thirty-eight percent or something German, and thirty-eight percent French). Boeing wanted to forbid Airbus and the alliance from making big planes. This is a condition Airbus couldn't accept. So they got out of it. They knew all about the plans, and they were part of it. There are beautiful books about this. They are French individuals who thought of this. Just like this fellow Gerhard Neumann from General Electric, a German-Jewish person who went to China and was a great, great man at General Electric, hauled General Electric into the civilian airplane — air engines — business, which General Electric didn't want to do. Now he is in with the president. His picture is known in America. It's a success story, his autobiography. But there is always an individual at the start of something big like this. Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) worked quite well at the time. They were working with France on satellites and with Ford Aerospace on satellites also. Missiles were being produced. But as is publicly known, since Germany didn't export weapons, they were exported through a French-German company called EuroMissile. Everybody knows the reasons, it's not secret. But you read it once and then you forget it. Officially Germany didn't export any arms at that time. Yes, they are good missiles. They are like the EXOCET. It's an EXOCET, called something else in Germany. But it's the same thing. It was jointly developed. At the time they made weapons and extremely good helicopters. There's an MBB helicopter which has a hingeless rotar, his own invention really. And Airbus is a good plane.
I was brought in at MBB. Everybody thought that as a scientist I would support would-be scientists in these industries. There are people who would like to exercise professorships in industries, but don't have the qualifications, have never published a book, and so on. They do a little research copying the same kinds of things many times. They all thought that I would support this. When I'm in an industry, I'm extremely pragmatic, you know, and I did not support it. I could not support that type of research in industry. It's not the place. Especially if it's third-rate. The engineering research was tops, and I supported it. Even though it was not my job, for example, I was instrumental in acquiring two major projects, that is, Tiger, the military helicopter, German-French, with a European night-vision system, where at that time, you know, Martin-Marietta had a night-vision system I would have liked to push, but which was not adequate. That's all I can say about it. There was a big fight in industry. This is a multi-billion-dollar project. I also helped in putting across initially a three billion deutsche mark electronic-combat Tornado airplane version with an American electronic system in it, together with a European infrared system to open the way for the fighter-bomber Tornadoes. It's a big, big thing. Since my job was not to be in the acquisition end, not all the people were happy. I didn't get any medals, no salary raise, nothing. But just to give you a feeling for what I did in this company. I had experience in American defense. I know the difficulties, I know the people.
Decline and Takeover of MBB
This company went quite well. In the middle, between 1970 and 1980 — let us say until about 1985 or so — but then the Big Bang of events came. You've read the books like Paul Kennedy's book, things like that.
In the business there are predators. There were a number of events. One, they now decided they would like to get back into the aerospace business. They used to be a propulsion system company making propulsion systems for automobiles, but also for tanks and for airplanes and for ships before the war. It's a good idea. They decided the automobile business may not be what they imagined it could be. These were still very good times. Mr. Herrhausen, chairman of the Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest bank, the man who was assassinated, and Mr. Reuter, chairman of Daimler Benz, Germany's largest industrial corporation, said, "Let's do this. We don't have time to learn the business, so we'll buy it. " It was done more or less elegantly.
First of all, the big mistake was made before I came to MBB; it was a tragic mistake. There was also the problem of the German system of employee representation. My friends at Siemens and others warned me when I decided to come to Germany. They said, "You don't know what you're getting into." Do you know about the "Betriebsräte", the employees' "representatives, on the corporate boards? You'll see nothing said about this in public because it's a law. But what it means in fact is that the German workers are represented on the board of directors. The board of directors is much more powerful in Germany than it used to be in America (now American companies are trying to get some real directors). So they know everything. They are elected. There is not just a union outside, but there is an in-company union, elected and paid by the company. Instead of working, they are doing politics. They make sure that they fight for what is normally in every law: that you cannot end the contracts. In fact, you don't need them, but they are there. It's kind of historical. After being very much a dictatorship, Germany became the most liberal country that I know, even today in spite of the incidents. So that's part of it. These workers insisted on pushing the founder of the company, Herr Doctor Bölkow, out of the company when he was sixty-five, out of MBB, which he himself had founded. It happened to Peter Goldmark at CBS Laboratories, and he founded Goldmark Communications. Peter stayed on until he was seventy (when he died prematurely in an automobile accident). Some people are more equal than others, and that was a tragic mistake.
Here, like in some other countries (not in Japan), they did not realize the difference between the founding, leading personalities and the second and third assistants who then become presidents. The whole entrepreneurial spirit was lost with him. Dr. Bölkow is still alive, but he has no say in his own company. Although he has stock and he is a multi-millionaire, he has no real say at all. The people in this leadership got lost, and they could not fight a takeover. Fighting a takeover is an art. You have to mobilize your white knights. That was the end of MBB as a company. So that with various heads brought in or not brought in, and partly owned by the State of Bavaria, and a little bit by Siemens which really means nothing, and a little bit even by the French Aerospatiale, etc. the company was finally in 1989 taken over entirely by Daimler Benz and the name MBB was changed to Deutsche Aerospace, a Daimler Benz corporation.
Please remember I was the first from MBB to join the Deutsche Aerospace corporation. I even had to break from a rather high appointment. At that time I was already sixty-five. I had just been appointed the NATO AGARD director of the laser task force for one and a half years. It was a great honor, as it could be an American, a Frenchman, a Turk, or any other NATO person. At MBB, at sixty-five I had to leave the company in any event. I had no pension from them because I was missing some months there. It's a tragedy. By a contract. Nobody told me.
So I had this high-level NATO appointment. It made the concept for the "laser task force" (actually called a "study group") very secret and so on. It was during the Cold War, in April, 1989. Then in July I got the chance to become this senior advisor for two years for the just-founded Deutsche Aerospace, the first person from MBB, directly from the chairman, Jürgen Schremp. I had a one-hour interview with him. To the surprise of everybody. Everybody came down to my door from then on. I became his advisor with the explicit task of Japan, America, and France, if you wish — but Japan was a very secret project at that time, and I was probably one of a handful who knew what was going on. I don't want you to read more into it, but also not less, because I had very good contacts. MBB was gradually taken over. They tried to take over Dornier but made a very bad contract with Dornier. You probably heard about this, and the Dornier family insisted on keeping the name. Still it is now an integral part of the Deutsche Aerospace.
The name MBB has now disappeared. Remember the colonial Roman Empire? They used to come into Palestine or wherever, would cut off the local king, and then all the others would fall into line. Then you change the names of the countries, whose old names you will never again hear. The traditional trademark name MBB has disappeared, which I think is a mistake. They were quality products. MBB is now part of the Deutsche Aerospace, and several things have happened here in Germany that have caused major difficulties. They either underestimated or didn't want to estimate the cost of the reunification. It's a public cost already; eighty or more billion dollars went for it, including to the Soviet Union. It was not cheap. We bought our way out of it. We already have given billions to the Soviet Union: when you find a completely ruined country, what can you do?
Cooperation among Corporations
That's one package. The second package is the structural problem in the world: to see that the people have only now begun to face up to the realities, which mean in the high-tech world you all get back under one name or another to work — some people call them monopolies. Two years ago, they still used to be called strategic alliances. They used to be called cartels, between America and Germany primarily, and Japan: Head to Head the famous book from MIT's Sloan School Dean, Lester Thurow. His new book has everything in it except the technology. But why should I tell him? He has some words about it, but he doesn't understand technology. That's why I'm interested in your committee. If I can do something, I really would like to. It's in our common interest. Either we get together in protecting the interest of all of us — of the consumer, of course, but we're all consumers — in the fruits of these high-tech achievements, or else we will go sooner or later the way Paul Kennedy says. The Mogul or some other empires. This is the reality. People are now realizing that this demonizing of cartels is nonsense. Cartels are exercised by every American company. What do you think AT&T and NTT are if they group together now? You may call it whatever you want to, but they are so powerful it's a cartel. The others just don't count. Or when Texas Instruments goes and makes an agreement with Toshiba, and then Westinghouse with Mitsubishi Electric, these are, for all intents and purposes, cartels. People have to revise their thinking. Now, you can package it in different ways. There are books on this. I bought an excellent one in Japan. The electric light-bulb cartels, managed by General Electric. Fertilizer cartels. Cartels were necessary. The philosophy is that people have to work together, otherwise Taiwan, Korea, and Indonesia, for example will produce all the automobiles and whatever. All the lower "high tech." However, there remain airplanes. Just the airplane engines, which are very difficult, and the electronics. This should remain for the "triad" USA, Europe and Japan. Here Lester Thurow and I fully agree.
What I am saying is about the timing in which these industries, which I have mentioned to you, were taken over by Daimler. Daimler Benz was absolutely unprepared for the "new" high technology in aerospace. There are similarities in medicine. There's been a dramatic change from empirical, scientific technology in medicine. The computer tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, each already topped by Nobel Prizes in their own right. These new diagnostic instruments are founded on five or six Nobel Prizes. This is, you know, Bragg; of course, Bloch and Purcell, and Klug whom I mentioned before, and Gabor, and so on. I lectured on this. This is highly mathematical. Because the computer-tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are truly holographic. Why don't you read about it in this way every day? It's for patent reasons. Only Siemens noted the holographic nature of MRI in one of their brochures. So I see the mathematics, yes, but you can't look at the magnetic resonance imaging in the computer and say, "Ah ha! The process is carried out holographically." But that's what it is. The projection is very refined and so on. These new types of industries are science-based industries. Not automobiles, though. Historically, the automobile electronics, as good as they are and as important as they are, were already much more so. I just recently met the new president of Bosch, named Dr. Scholl. He comes from the automobile electronics. It's fantastic, but that's not computer tomography, and that's not an airplane engine.
Have you ever been in an aircraft engine factory? I recommend that you someday if you have a chance. To fly an airplane today, you need these titanium blades through which lasers have drilled the holes. You know it's for cooling. The computer modeling doesn't work in airplanes. That's why you have wind tunnels. That's why it doesn't work in the weather or climate predictions. Companies like Daimler Benz — it's going to hurt them. For years I was trying to put through a system to prevent disasters like the Challenger or a whole series of other such technically-based disasters. You read about them in the papers. You can prevent them. It's awfully simple. If you and I establish a rapport, and then I have some project where you are my boss, and I tell you I can do this in so much time and make a regular technical proposal, and then after some months it doesn't go. If I have your confidence, you can call me up: "My God! What I did here, it's going to cost more. Or, it's technically not feasible. Or it's going to take longer." If I don't get this rapport, then I just wait for the disaster to happen. Maybe I get another job in between, and then, hundreds of millions of dollars later....
Example: the air defense gun put Ford Aerospace out of business. It was put through the whole defense procurement system. You can read about it in the IEEE Spectrum. Secretary Weinberger spoke of this. His last act before leaving his office as Defense Secretary at the time. It was serious because the thing which was supposed to shoot down fast-traveling airplanes couldn't shoot down even a helicopter. The whole thing was scratched. This happens every day. There are such volcanoes in every high-tech industry. I was invited by a MITI-sponsored group to give a lecture on this. I cited the case of the General Electric refrigerators. It was in the Wall Street Journal, from which I really researched this. Some Defense person came to General Electric after Defense, got a big job, and was going to do rotary compressors for refrigerators with sintered bearings. It was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago. It proved not to work in air-conditioners. Somebody was telling them, it was like the emperor without the clothes. I have experience in the Defense area. It cost $500 million to retrieve all those refrigerators with the sintered bearings, which you know, would freeze. So I told this story in Japan. They invited me to the luncheon room after the meeting and they said, what has this got to do with Japan? I said, "There's a world sickness in the high-tech industry. We're now in such a state of sickness. It's not limited to any one high-tech country. It's going to come." What do you think was the reason the Matsushita head in the spring had to leave his job? Refrigerators. It's true. I didn't send them the clipping. And of course I did not say, "I told you so." In fact, there are many reasons why this happens in the high-tech industries — in the United States, Germany and Japan. The higher, the more complicated the industry, the higher your technology, the more likely this is to happen.
What is the solution? To work together. Bölkow worked together with France; AT&T and NTT are now doing it, and so on. Many computing firms like Sony and Apple are too. There are financial reasons, of course, but the engineer from Sony can tell an Apple man, without going through the system. If both of them come to the same conclusion, it is a great advantage. Otherwise, the amount of savings through the so-called lean production, which may help in the automobile industry, and which might help in the textile (which has also been computerized) does not work in these systems. This is an illusion. I spent much time on this. I came to this conclusion after I was trying a little psychology in the division and giving the lectures. The Bavarian State minister, Dr. Goppel, son of the former prime minister, invited me to give a lecture on "The universalist's dilemma between science, business and politics." It has to do with motivation. The executives, especially in Germany, are like politicians — appointed for five years. What is their main interest? Not to have problems, and to be reappointed. They don't want to know about potential disasters. I'm not saying this with prejudice, but because it is a fact. I'm saying we must somehow deal with them, not try to preach to them. I tried to do this through these alliances. You asked about MBB. Now it's Deutsche Aerospace and they have to fire lots of people because of the world-crisis in our economies. They'll be motivated and those people with problems are going to be the last ones to come and say, "I think I've got a problem."
You're going to see more and more severe problems in the computer software business. There is an enormous amount of research going on in this, which I could write a book on. I'm not sure I want to. But you know the result of program failures. You have some of these. Some are very serious. Everybody was saying it couldn't happen. You can find reports in Business Week this week. But for me it's completely clear, and we have many, many more such examples in Europe, USA, Japan. We will really have to work together. This book I recommend to you. Head-to-Head it's called, by Professor Lester Thurow, "The Coming Economic Battle among Japan, Europe, and America." He's the dean of the Sloan School of Business at MIT. Germany, Japan, and United States. He says they have to work together. There are many opinions, but, as I have been saying for two decades already, I think that the time has now come to do this. That's why I do all of these things, and that's why I accept these professorships. I can give lectures, and sometimes I write. Although there are 20,000 papers per day, the chance of anybody reading them is worse than the famous one reader per paper (that is the author himself) because even here I found two misprints, although I've corrected the proofs. I was horrified to have missed the misspelled word "introduction," but some copy reader evidently caught it. But an "r" was missing and "Dr." was also missing next to my name, and so on. Even the author can't read his own paper any more, of course.
MBB and Japan
Anyway, you asked about MBB. I gave you a little bit of background about MBB. It was a good aerospace company. They missed a chance with Japan. I have personally long dealt with a very good friend, a top Japanese executive, an engineer, who lived in America for many years as a Japanese. He was the number two man at the Mitsubishi Corporation before becoming the president of another Mitsubishi-owned corporation at the age of sixty-seven. The Mitsubishi Corporation makes something like $300 billion a year. Poor people. He and I saw eye to eye from the first minute we met, and I told him about my experience at Citibank, when the banks changed their strategy in South America after they lost billions and billions, and when they decided that they were not going to let themselves be divided any more and continue giving loans of money for less and less interest, and finally without interest. Today you have bank pools. They would say they always had, but that's not true. Lloyd's and Citibank and Bank of America, and whatever, Mitsubishi Bank and so on. When some South American country comes to ask for a loan, the banks say all right, but form a pool. There's no longer bidding against each other. The same thing must happen in our high-tech world. It takes a minimum of ten years in the sciences before a contribution is truly noted. If you write something, it takes ten years before somebody sees that it may even be relevant — fifteen or twenty years are not unusual.
- 1 About George Wilhelm Stroke
- 2 About the Interview
- 3 Copyright Statement
- 4 Interview
- 4.1 Early Life and Career
- 4.2 MIT: George Harrison & Charles Townes
- 4.3 Diffraction-Grating Theory
- 4.4 John Strong and H. Babcock
- 4.5 Fourier-transform Program & Wavefronts
- 4.6 Insecurity of George Harrison
- 4.7 Polaris Project
- 4.8 Optics Work and MIT
- 4.9 University of Michigan
- 4.10 SUNY Stony Brook
- 4.11 Dennis Gabor
- 4.12 Three-Dimensional Holography
- 4.13 Holography Race & White-Light Reflection
- 4.14 Attempt to Bribe Gabor
- 4.15 Stony Brook and Anti-Semitism
- 4.16 Moving to Germany
- 4.17 Work on Holography at Stony Brook
- 4.18 Crystallography & Image Deconvolution
- 4.19 Interest in Medicine
- 4.20 NSF Committee on Ultrasonic Imaging
- 4.21 Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm (MBB)
- 4.22 Decline and Takeover of MBB
- 4.23 Cooperation among Corporations
- 4.24 MBB and Japan