Oral-History:Clark A. Hamilton

About Clark A. Hamilton

Clark A. Hamilton was born in Rochester, New York on 22 April 1944. He received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Union College in Schenectady, New York in 1966, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester in New York, in 1968 and 1971, respectively. He joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; formerly the National Bureau of Standards) in Boulder, Colorado, in 1971, and became a NIST Fellow in 1987. Most of his career at NIST focused on Josephson devices and voltage standards. In 1999, he retired from NIST to start his own company, VMetrix LLC, located in Boulder, Colorado. It specializes in system design, consulting, and training related to Josephson voltage standards.

In 1995, Hamilton became an IEEE Fellow and has authored more than eighty publications. He has received many awards, including the 1995 IEEE Electrotechnology Transfer Award, the 2001 National Conference of Standards Laboratories International (NCSLI) Wildhack Award, the IEEE Council on Superconductivity Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, and two U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medals for his work on superconducting integrated circuits using Josephson devices (1984 and 1989). In addition, he shared IR100 awards for his work on infrared detectors (1976) and Josephson array voltage standards (1987).

In this interview, Clark A. Hamilton discusses his childhood education, interests, hobbies, and science projects; college experiences; and career. He also reviews his experiences in electrical engineering, particularly in the Josephson junction development as well as career challenges, successes, and opportunities. In addition, Hamilton also talks about professional organizations and international collaboration, especially with engineers and scientists in China.

About the Interview

CLARK A. HAMILTON: An Interview Conducted by Mary Ann C. Hellrigel, IEEE History Center, 5 September 2016.

Interview #769 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.

Copyright Statement

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

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Samuel C. Williams Library, 3rd Floor, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, N.J. 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. 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:

Clark A. Hamilton, an oral history conducted in 2016 by Mary Ann C. Hellrigel, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Clark A. Hamilton

INTERVIEWER: Mary Ann Hellrigel

DATE: 5 September 2016

PLACE: Applied Superconductivity Conference, Denver, CO



Hellrigel:

Today's Monday, September 5th, 2016. I'm at the Applied Superconductivity Conference in Denver, Colorado. I'm Mary Ann Hellrigel of the IEEE History Center and I'm here with Dr. Clark A. Hamilton. I finished setting up the recording technology, so we're ready to go. Thank you, sir. Now we'll get the show on the road. Thank you.

You asked about the IEEE History Center. We have a staff of seven people. Nathan Brewer is in charge of the Engineering and Technology History Wiki site. Our oral history collection has been posted on ETHW.

Hamilton:

Seven people at the History Center?

Hellrigel:

Yes, we have seven people on the staff of the IEEE History Center.

Hamilton:

Interesting.

Hellrigel:

Most oral history interviews take about ninety minutes to two hours or so. If you want to take a break, you take a break. If you want to talk more, we'll talk more.

Hamilton:

Well, I've got a lunch at 12:15 pm. It is a quarter mile from here.

Hellrigel:

We're on time, sir. What I'd like to start with then is a bit of family history. When and where were you born?

Hamilton:

I was born in Rochester, New York in 1944.

Hellrigel:

You were born in 1944, so you're almost a baby boomer.

Hamilton:

Yes, almost, but I'm a war baby.

Hellrigel:

Please tell me a bit about your mom and dad.

Hamilton:

My dad was a self-taught electrical engineer. He worked for a small company called MelloPhone Corporation. He eventually rose to become the top technical person in a company of about forty people or so. They made all kinds of things, including what they then called talking picture equipment, movies with sound. It was a new thing. He used to fly around New York and Pennsylvania installing this equipment.

Hellrigel:

That would’ve made sense since Eastman was in Rochester. Okay, so perhaps there is that synergy.

Hamilton:

His first name was Allen. That is my middle name.

Hellrigel:

Sure, being named after one’s father was a common practice; so, the middle name Allen would've made sense. He's a self-taught electrical engineer and a high school graduate.

Hamilton:

Yes. He went to a technical high school, Edison Tech in Rochester.

Hellrigel:

He grew up in the age of radio.

Hamilton:

He did, and Model T cars and things like that.

Hellrigel:

Yes, which was very technical, hands-on, so I understand where he came from and he may have been attracted to the technical high school. How about your mom?

Hamilton:

She was a stay-at-home homemaker. She also grew up in Rochester. They met through a church group.

Hellrigel:

Do you have siblings?

Hamilton:

One sister, Sally. She’s still back in Rochester. She taught at the community college, Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York.

Recently, Rochester has kind of had a hard time.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Its economy has changed.

Hamilton:

The loss of Kodak kind of took a toll.

Hellrigel:

Xerox, too.

Hamilton:

Yes, Xerox, too.

Hellrigel:

The university and hospital employ many people, but it cannot absorb all of the displaced workers. Your mom and dad both graduated high school?

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Your mother's name?

Hamilton:

Ruth.

Hellrigel:

Ruth. You left Rochester then to go to school?

Hamilton:

Yes, undergraduate school. I went to Union College down the road in Schenectady. It was the first time I was away from home for significant periods of time.

Hellrigel:

Attending Union College meant you stayed in the industrial New York region.

Hamilton:

Yes. Well, for a while.

Hellrigel:

Yes, for a while; until you graduated. How about your childhood? You grew up in Rochester. Since your dad had a boat, that may have indicated you were middle class?

Hamilton:

Yes, middle class. It was a small boat, a lightning-class sailboat. We were members of a small yacht club on Irondequoit Bay, which is a bay off Lake Ontario. During the summer, most of our weekends were spent down there in the sailboat races. We also went to regattas around the state, so sailing was a big thing.

Hellrigel:

When you were young, what were you interested in?

Hamilton:

Wires and batteries.

Hellrigel:

Wires and batteries all the time?

Hamilton:

Well, not all the time. I liked to run around and play touch football down in the church backyard. We made a hockey rink in our backyard for a couple of winters.

Hellrigel:

That makes sense in Rochester. What were your favorite subjects in school?

Hamilton:

Math and science were my favorite subjects.

Hellrigel:

Sure, math and science. How about your least favorite subject?

Hamilton:

German.

Hellrigel:

German. You had to take a language.

Hamilton:

Yes, German and French. Languages; I was not very good at languages.

Hellrigel:

Languages were part of the high school and college curriculum.

Hamilton:

I was not good at languages; except maybe Fortran.

Hellrigel:

If you were college-bound, it was part of the curriculum, so you had to take a language.

Hamilton:

That was in college. I had to have a foreign language in college. I took French in high school and I got through French okay. I took German in college and I was highly distracted at the time with engineering stuff.

Hellrigel:

Your other courses distracted you from German.

Hamilton:

Yes, the other courses.

Hellrigel:

What were your hobbies?

Hamilton:

Sailing of course; and then skiing in the winter. I was always down in our basement workshop making something or other; all kinds of different electrical gadgets. Sometimes I made furniture and things of that sort, but not so much of that because we really didn't have the tools.

Hellrigel:

Like your father, you were a hands-on engineer, too.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Building things interested you.

Hamilton:

I'm a very hands-on engineer.

Hellrigel:

When you were growing up your dad had the workshop. Did your sister go into the workshop?

Hamilton:

No. She stayed away from that area. That was our domain.

Hellrigel:

Sure, that was the man cave.

Hamilton:

That was the man space, and it really was a cave.

Hellrigel:

Did your mother and sister have a ladies cave?

Hamilton:

No.

Hellrigel:

The kitchen perhaps?

Hamilton:

Well, the kitchen I suppose. Sure.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Did you have tinker toy sets or erector sets?

Hamilton:

I certainly had an erector set and I had a lot of what was then called Lincoln Logs. No Legos. They weren't around yet.

Hellrigel:

How about a railroad set, a train set?

Hamilton:

No. For some reason I never had a train set, but I worked with my cousin on his train set.

Hellrigel:

When you were young were you a member of any clubs like the Boy Scouts?

Hamilton:

Yes. I was a Boy Scout for years and years; Cub Scout, Boy Scout, the whole bit.

Hellrigel:

The whole bit?

Hamilton:

Yes, I went to summer camp and earned all the ranks, including Eagle Scout.

Hellrigel:

Fantastic. Did you like the outdoor recreation part of scouting?

Hamilton:

Yes. Sure I liked the outdoor activities like camping and backpacking.

Hellrigel:

When you were young, what did you think you would do when you grew up?

Hamilton:

I thought I would be an electrical engineer.

Hellrigel:

Given your interests, you thought you might follow after your dad.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

What did his dad, your grandfather, do?

Hamilton:

My paternal grandfather was a watchmaker.

Hellrigel:

Watchmaker is a very skilled craft.

Hamilton:

He came over from England and had a job at Tiffany's repairing high-end watches. He eventually ended up at Rochester, at the Scheer's company, I think. He was their go-to guy for expensive watches. He used to overhaul George Eastman's watch once a year.

Hellrigel:

Wow, so he got into the inner sanctum of the estate or did Eastman show up at the shop?

Hamilton:

No. I'm sure somebody brought the watch down to the store and he did his thing.

Hellrigel:

That sounds very interesting. Eastman was really a high-profile customer. Rochester also had other industrialists. I guess your grandfather’s father, your great-grandfather, was a watchmaker too back in England?

Hamilton:

I don't know what his father was. I don't know very much of the family before him.

Hellrigel:

The technical background and skills seem to go back a few generations. It makes sense for you and your dad to be interested in a technical field.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

You didn't rebel.

Hamilton:

No, I didn't rebel.

Hellrigel:

You were growing up in the time when you might have had a chance to rebel and do something totally different than your father. Right, once you got to college, you may have encountered students testing limits and options.

Hamilton:

Yes, but I didn't need to rebel. I didn’t need to rebel because I wasn't being pushed in any particular direction.

Hellrigel:

I see, your parents were not the domineering type, so you made your decisions. In high school did you play on sports teams or join clubs?

Hamilton:

No. I never played on any sports teams. However, I played in neighborhood games; hockey in the winter and other sports in other seasons.

Hellrigel:

Yes, those neighborhood pick-up games.

Hamilton:

Pick-up games, yes.

Hellrigel:

Before the era of parental planned activities and playdates.

Hamilton:

Football, we played pick-up football. Right. I don’t remember any playdates. I probably had some playdates. Who knows?

Hellrigel:

When you were growing up in Rochester, it was a bustling industrial city.

Hamilton:

Yes, it sure was active. Kodak was at its height and Xerox too was a fast-rising star.

Hellrigel:

Yes, and manufacturing, too. How did you select Union College?

Hamilton:

I applied to about five schools and I got accepted at most of them. I picked Union because it seemed to have a good mix of engineering and humanities, so I wouldn’t be too one-dimensional.

Hellrigel:

You majored in electrical engineering? Did you have to minor in any subject?

Hamilton:

Yes, I majored in electrical engineering and I didn’t have a minor in anything.

Hellrigel:

What humanities courses interested you?

Hamilton:

Economics. I thought economics was good because I could make mathematical models. The engineering program at Union had one humanities course per semester. Each semester you took five engineering, math or science courses and one humanities course.

Hellrigel:

It was a small college, so that may have been appealing?

Hamilton:

Yes, about 2,000. No, it wasn't that big. Our class was about 350, so Union had about 1,400 undergraduates.

Hellrigel:

You didn't get lost in the big university.

Hamilton:

No, I did not get lost in a big university and Union did not have a graduate program, which was another plus. It meant that the professors were focused on undergraduates.

Hellrigel:

Yes, they focused on teaching.

Hamilton:

Yes, teaching undergraduate students was a priority; unlike the University of Rochester where all the professors were focused on their graduate students and their grants. However, I did go to Rochester as a graduate student, so I experienced both the small undergraduate college and the research university.

Hellrigel:

Right. You went to Rochester for your master's degree.

Hamilton:

I also earned a Ph.D. at the University of Rochester.

Hellrigel:

Why did you select Rochester?

Hamilton:

I think there were some economic reasons involved. I could live at home. I knew people that worked at the school. They gave me a good offer. In those days if an engineer went to graduate school, you didn't need any money. It was just a question of how good an offer the school would make for your living allowance. The offer covered the tuition, too. The living allowance started at $200 per month.

Hellrigel:

That’s not bad.

Hamilton:

That wasn't bad and I was living at home. I gave my parents fifty dollars each month to live at home, so I was doing okay.

Hellrigel:

The University of Rochester has an excellent library.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Were you content with their graduate program?

Hamilton:

Yes, I'd say so and I was more content after I got into a research project. In the beginning, it seemed a bit disconnected from hands-on engineering, but then I chose the right advisor and I got back into it.

Hellrigel:

Who was your advisor?

Hamilton:

Sydney Shapiro was my advisor. He eventually became the dean of the electrical engineering department. He was one of the key people that verified the predictions of Brian Josephson, for which Josephson got the Nobel Prize. He made these predictions and at first nobody quite believed it. Then there was a rush to see if what Josephson predicted was right.

There was a famous conference attended by Josephson and a lot of other physicists, including John Bardeen, the premier solid state physicist of his time. Bardeen actually debated Josephson. The debated focused on Josephson's paper predicting what became known as the Josephson effect. Bardeen said, “no, this can't work, because the coupling is just not strong enough to produce an effect that can ever be observed.” Josephson said “I respectfully disagree.” At the time, Josephson was a graduate student and Bardeen was a two-time Nobel Prize winner, so this was an interesting event. A number of people have written articles about that confrontation.

Hellrigel:

That must've been a David and Goliath battle.

Hamilton:

Right, it was kind of a David and Goliath situation. Within a year or so Josephson was proven correct and Bardeen surrendered.

Hellrigel:

Did Bardeen ever apologize?

Hamilton:

I don’t think he apologized, but he certainly said he was wrong.

Hellrigel:

It was a great admission.

Hamilton:

Bardeen was a nice guy.

Hellrigel:

We have high school students and non-techie people use our oral history project. Could you explain what Josephson predicted without getting too detailed?

Hamilton:

Without getting too detailed? Well, he predicted that if you take two pieces of superconductor and separate them by a very thin insulating barrier, then you would have a junction device that would have the unique characteristic that the supercurrent could get through that insulating barrier. That means current could flow with zero voltage drop, which would be very unusual to imagine.

The second thing and the really useful thing is that he predicted that if you applied an AC frequency to this junction, it would produce a DC voltage which was exactly proportional to the frequency, which is sort of the cornerstone of my career, making something practical out of that.

Hellrigel:

Thank you very much for this explanation.

It would've been really cost-effective because you didn't need to use copper? The other thing is there'd be no voltage drop-off, so that was efficient?

Hamilton:

Well, efficiency and cost don't enter the equation. This is a microscopic amount of material. The thing is that if you can connect frequency to voltage, then you can produce a voltage that is as accurate as the known frequency. Frequency is the easiest thing to measure with great accuracy. It can easily be done and is done every day to a part in 10 to the 12th. This meant you could make a voltage that was accurate to a part in 10 to the 12th. The technology at the time was only a few parts in 10 to the 6th, so there were 6 orders of magnitude improvement available.

Hellrigel:

That was phenomenal. I mostly deal with copper wires and I know about the AC/DC debate with the copper wires. With Edison’s DC design, after about a mile you would lose too much. The copper wire would have to be thicker and thicker and thicker.

Hamilton:

That's because Edison couldn't easily make a high voltage. The copper loses the same both to AC and DC current, but if you can make the voltage high, you can make the current small, which reduces the resistive loss. So, that's why AC won out over DC.

Hellrigel:

You were at the cutting edge of this post World War II--well, the 1960s and the 1970s era.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

How did being on the cutting edge make you feel?

Hamilton:

I didn't know it was cutting edge. I don't think anybody--well, some people knew it was cutting edge. When I was in high school everybody got very excited about Sputnik. It probably produced those NASA fellowships that I eventually was awarded. Unlike now, it was a time when science was very well supported.

Hellrigel:

Right. After Sputnik, there was a push to teach more science and mathematics at the grammar school and high school level. Federal funding increased for teaching science, math, and languages, especially Russian.

Hamilton:

Yes. Science fairs were a very big thing, much more so than now.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Did you participate in science fairs?

Hamilton:

I was a big participant in science fairs.

Hellrigel:

Beginning at what age; perhaps high school?

Hamilton:

Yes, I started during high school because there weren’t any in grammar school.

Hellrigel:

Do you remember your projects?

Hamilton:

I remember all my projects.

Hellrigel:

What'd you do?

Hamilton:

My first two projects involved building computers out of relays and other mechanical devices to play simple games like tic tac toe and a game called Nim. If you're familiar with it, it involves picking up sticks and not getting stuck with the last one. I also made a computer that played the game of Battleship. You know Battleship?

Hellrigel:

I played Battleship with my brother all the time, but it was the manual version.

Hamilton:

Yes. Well, this was a machine that could play battleship. Actually, it wasn't very smart, but you could really play Battleship with that machine.

Hellrigel:

You made these in your workshop at home?

Hamilton:

I made them in the workshop at home.

Hellrigel:

Did your dad help?

Hamilton:

He didn't help much with those projects, but then he suggested a somewhat more scientific project that used some facilities that he could get from where he worked. It was an idea for analyzing gasses by observing the way they boil off a metal surface. The idea was that different gasses might come off at different temperatures, so if you raised the temperature slowly, you might see a series of spikes, somewhat like a spectrum, and you’d be able to determine which gasses were present. I spent two years working on that project and I had a vacuum system that my dad helped me get. I did all these experiments in the workshop. I had to build my own strip chart recorder to record the data.

Do you know what a strip chart recorder is? There's a roll of paper that rolls out the front and then there's what looks like a lie detector. You've seen the lie detector? My recorder was driven by a motor and it recorded an electrical signal as a function of time, so I was recording pressure as a function of time as this metal surface slowly heated up. I would get these peaks and there was some correlation with what gasses were in the system. Although my project was not good enough to be practical, it was a good science project.

Hellrigel:

You had the gasses project and computer projects, so what else did you develop?

Hamilton:

Well, I liked to build gadgets. One of them was what I named my rolling can. It was a can about five inches in diameter and six inches long, just a plain cylinder with nothing on the outside. If you placed it on its side it would start rolling, over obstacles, even uphill.

Hellrigel:

Wow.

Hamilton:

If it came to an obstacle like a door, it banged into the door, backed up, and hit it again. It continued to hit the door until the door opened, at which point it rolled in. It just had an off-center weight inside it, which was driven by a motor so that it kept rolling to get its center of gravity down.

Hellrigel:

Cool, it continually adjusted.

Hamilton:

Yes, it kept adjusting. That was one project. I made a little box, about a 6-inch cube that had a top that could flip up and a switch on the front. I still have this gadget. The switch has two positions “normal” (down) and “activate” (up). The obvious inclination is to look at it and wonder what does this thing do? You flip the switch up, you hear a motor grinding, and the top of the box starts to rise. The top rises up and then a hand comes out, reaches around the front of the box, and turns the switch off. Then the hand pops back into the box and the lid comes down.

Hellrigel:

That's cool.

Hamilton:

That's the end of it.

Hellrigel:

Well, it's just like Thing on the Addams' Family. Thing was the hand that came out of the box on the table. Creepy.

Hamilton:

Yes, it's sort of like that. My grandchildren love it. Every time they see it, they say, "Can we see the box? Can we see the box?"

Hellrigel:

It's a different Jack-in-the-box.

Hamilton:

Kind of.

Hellrigel:

Well that's cool, and you kept it. It would be fun to post a photograph of it with your oral history. Perhaps a video of it working?

Hamilton:

Well, in the end, I made four of them. I gave several of them to my girlfriends at the time and I kept one.

Hellrigel:

What did the girlfriends think when you presented a gift like that?

Hamilton:

Well, I guess, they were polite.

Hellrigel:

You tried to woo them with a magic box. It was a fantastic project. Science fairs have become less popular, but today robot competitions are popular.

Hamilton:

The science fairs are still there at all the levels, but it's not such a big thing.

Hellrigel:

Students (not just a select few) were expected to participate in the science fair.

Hamilton:

My school wasn't very good on science fairs. They didn’t have a school fair, but I was into science, so I wanted to go to the fair. I was the only one that went to the District Fair.

Hellrigel:

You won prizes as you went along in the science fair competition?

Hamilton:

Yes, in Monroe County there were three top awards and I got one of them two years in a row. I also went to the state competition and came in second place one year. The science fair was fun.

Hellrigel:

Your folks must've been proud.

Hamilton:

I guess. Yes. I think the New York State Science Fair was held in Corning, so we went south. They put us up and wined and dined us.

Hellrigel:

Well, that's nice treatment. Your mom must've been saying, "That's my boy."

Hamilton:

I presume so.

Hellrigel:

Did you take vacations with your family?

Hamilton:

Sure.

Hellrigel:

Where'd you go?

Hamilton:

We went to state parks around New York State. In 1957, we took a trip out west to Colorado, Yellowstone, Bryce and Zion, all those places.

Hellrigel:

Did that trip attract you to Colorado to live later in your life?

Hamilton:

I was a teenager at the time. No, that wasn't what brought me west. The job brought me to Colorado.

Hellrigel:

Did you take your little Kodak snapshots?

Hamilton:

Certainly.

Hellrigel:

Taking vacation photographs was a popular pastime. The Smithsonian has an extensive collection of National Park vacation photographs.

Hamilton:

Everybody had those box cameras. Yup, I had one of those.

Hellrigel:

Now jump back to the graduate program.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Did you find your mentor or did he find you?

Hamilton:

I found him. In undergraduate school, the course that interested me the most was control systems. I did a senior project which is generally called stabilizing the inverted pendulum, which involved producing some kind of a car that could be driven back and forth on a track and coming up from this car is a vertical pole on a free pivot so it can fall over. The object is to drive the car back and forth so as to prevent the pole from falling over. The pole is like a pendulum, except inverted. You have to see which way it's falling and catch it. It's quite a classical problem in electrical engineering and it gave me great interest in control systems.

I went off to the University of Rochester. It had a control systems division and one professor who was interested in control systems. However, I discovered that a Ph.D. in control systems was an exercise in paperwork. You didn't get to do fun things with motors, sensors, and feedback control systems.

Hellrigel:

Paperwork would be far less fun than working in the lab.

Hamilton:

Working on a Ph.D. in control systems wouldn’t be fun. During my second year in graduate school, I was looking for a PhD project and just about that time the EE department hired Sid Shapiro. He was the person who verified Josephson's second prediction. At the University of Rochester, he started setting up a cryogenics lab to do more research in that direction. I looked in the lab and saw all this good stuff, including lots of oscilloscopes, electronics, cryogenics, and glass Dewars, and liquid helium. I thought that looked good, so I went to see Professor Shapiro and he was looking for graduate students. So there we go.

Hellrigel:

Did your funding increase when you joined his team?

Hamilton:

I had a year to go on a NASA fellowship, so he didn't have to support me that year. As a matter of fact, he never supported me. The research money that he brought in all went to the project. I had a NASA fellowship for three years and a Hertz fellowship for the last two years. The Hertz fellowship was really nice because it was $500 per month, so we were living high.

Hellrigel:

Wow. Maybe save a bit for a rainy day.

Hamilton:

Yes, well, I got married.

Hellrigel:

During graduate school you got married?

Hamilton:

I got married in graduate school, right. We moved into a university apartment and had a little bit more money.

Hellrigel:

This must have been 1969?

Hamilton:

Yes. Married in 1969. Masters in 1968. Ph.D. in 1971.

Hellrigel:

What did your wife think about marrying a graduate student?

Hamilton:

She was an undergrad, so I think she thought it was great. How could she not?

Hellrigel:

She was an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, the U or R?

Hamilton:

Yes, she was a U of R undergrad.

Hellrigel:

How did you cross paths with her?

Hamilton:

I met her at a beer blast.

Hellrigel:

Oh I see, one of those festive college gatherings, a beer blast. Why not? The drinking age was eighteen, so everyone was legal.

Hamilton:

Yes, everyone was legal.

Hellrigel:

You courted her.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Did she get one of the boxes?

Hamilton:

No, she got a piece of furniture, which I made for her dorm room.

Hellrigel:

What did you make?

Hamilton:

I made what we called the stereo stand. She had brought her stereo to her dorm room and there was no good place to put it, so I made this special table. It had a tile top and nice oak doors to store all of her records

Hellrigel:

She could also store stereo equipment.

Hamilton:

She had those big disc records.

Hellrigel:

LPs.

Hamilton:

Right, LPs. The gift went over well.

Hellrigel:

Since it went over well, you must have been relieved. The record collection might have included the popular rock groups like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

Hamilton:

Yes. It was her collection

Hellrigel:

No Lawrence Welk?

Hamilton:

No. No Lawrence Welk.

Hellrigel:

You were in New York State around the time of Woodstock. Did you go to Woodstock?

Hamilton:

No. No, Woodstock.

Hellrigel:

It was a little too crazy?

Hamilton:

Yes. It was not my thing.

Hellrigel:

When you were in graduate school were you a TA [teaching assistant]?

Hamilton:

Yes, of course.

Hellrigel:

You were a TA in Physics or EE [electrical engineering]?

Hamilton:

EE. There were undergraduate courses with labs, and so I was the lab instructor. I had to set up the lab, get the students going, pick up their lab notebooks, and grade them on what they did.

Hellrigel:

Did you enjoy running the lab and teaching?

Hamilton:

It was okay, but grading the assignments was very subjective. I found it a little bit challenging to get my prejudices out of it because I had one student who made a perfect lab notebook. It was the neatest thing you ever saw. Then I had another student whose lab notebook was very messy, but technically just as good. So, I had to give them both the same grade. I said they both got the same answer. I think I made some comments that neater might prove better in the long run.

Hellrigel:

At that point did you want to go into teaching at university?

Hamilton:

No. I never seriously thought about teaching.

Hellrigel:

You graduated in 1971 and then employment brought you to Colorado.

Hamilton:

That brings me to Colorado. I had two job offers. Actually, 1971 was a low point in engineering employment because the space program was winding down and the Vietnam war was winding down. Engineers were being laid off by the thousands. I had an offer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, and an offer at NBS [National Bureau of Standards. In 1988, NBS became NIST, National Institute of Standards and Technology] in Boulder, Colorado. One of the requirements for the Green Bay job was a lab visit with your wife.

Hellrigel:

Sure, you had to experience the local community.

Hamilton:

The visit was required because it was not a good place for wives. Green Bank was as far back in the hillbilly country and as far away as they could possibly get from any kind of light, city, or radio transmission. They found a deep valley surrounded by mountains that shielded to some degree radio stations and things of that sort.

Hellrigel:

They wanted no interferences of any kind. It worked for their projects?

Hamilton:

Yes, it worked for their projects. We drove down for the interview. You drive through all of this very poor hillbilly country and then come up over a high ridge. There, laid out over a few hundred acres are a half a dozen or more of these gigantic radio telescopes all pointing at the sky, one of them bigger than a football field.

Hellrigel:

My gosh, it is massive.

Hamilton:

When you see those gigantic radio telescopes it's almost like you're on another planet.

Hellrigel:

The locals must have felt their territory was invaded by aliens with strange equipment. They may have pondered about what was happening, feeling as if they were being inundated by government workers.

Hamilton:

I don't think they went near the site. All of the housing was built for the staff by the government because otherwise they'd never get anybody to live there.

Hellrigel:

Right, a small community was built for the lab staff.

Hamilton:

During our visit, we went for a little hike in the woods and then to lunch. At the table next to us, a girl was talking about her experience walking to work when a rattlesnake sank its fangs into her boot. My wife heard about the rattlesnake encounter, and it did not go over very well. We decided to go to Boulder, Colorado.

Hellrigel:

Right. I can understand. I am not a fan of snakes, especially poisonous ones.

Hamilton:

Green Bank was a nice place, but it was not for us.

Hellrigel:

Sure, Green Bank would be perfect for folks looking for an outback rural experience. Besides, getting bitten by a rattlesnake on the way to work is no fun. You and your wife headed west and ended up in Boulder at the National Bureau of Standards.

Hamilton:

Right.

Hellrigel:

What did you do there?

Hamilton:

I was a post doc. To get a post doc you need to write a proposal and at that time there was a very big project at the lab in Boulder to measure the speed of light. Measuring the speed of light was done by measuring both the frequency and the wavelength of a laser beam. It is pretty easy to measure the wavelength, but measuring the frequency directly requires counting a frequency on the order of 10 to the 15 hertz. That was very difficult. It was done by making a whole string of lasers at successively lower frequencies and using some kind of non-linear device to get a beat frequency between the two lasers and lock them together. They could do this all the way down to the microwave frequency, to a frequency that could be counted by a string of flip flops.

Hellrigel:

If I am following you, the string of lasers is used to break it apart.

Hamilton:

Break it into little steps. Lock all these things together. They needed mixers to do it. Mixers are the things that mix two frequencies together and give you the beat, the difference frequency. They needed very high frequency mixers and Josephson junctions had a lot of promise in that direction, so that was the substance of my proposal and it was funded. I worked on Josephson junctions for a while, but it turned out not to be useful in that project because the project was almost done by the time I arrived. I spent about a year and a half working on high frequency mixers and then I saw the handwriting on the wall. My wife and I decided we wanted to stay in Boulder. I was working on a project that was no longer of particular interest to the National Bureau of Standards because the speed of light project was done. Once again I walked the halls looking for what looked good and I found a project in infrared detectors. During the last six months of my post doc, I tried making myself indispensable to that project so that I would get a job offer. It worked.

Hellrigel:

I see you won an award in 1976 for some of that infrared work.

Hamilton:

Yes, we made what was called an electrically calibrated pyroelectric radiometer.

Hellrigel:

What did you use it for?

Hamilton:

It was used for measuring light levels with absolute accuracy, the output of a laser or the output of a light bulb. The idea was to make a light detector that was based solely on heat. The light would heat it up. The light absorbing surface was also an electrical conductor so you could use a chopper that let the light hit it half the time. Then you drive a current through it to heat it up the other half of the time. A control system would match the electrical and optical power so you'd have an absolute measure of power.

Hellrigel:

And would this be used in those military weapons where they can try to see if your--

Hamilton:

Like a sidewinder missile?

Hellrigel:

Well, yes, in situations where they can see human heat?

Hamilton:

Yes. This would definitely see human heat. It was used to calibrate those kinds of devices.

Hellrigel:

It might be used by police scanning a building trying to figure out if someone’s is inside.

Hamilton:

Yes. They are interested in the image, not so much in the calibration. Laser manufacturers have to make sure lasers meet power standards for safety and they need to measure the power in a way that's traceable back to national standards. That means NBS. So, there's a market for these things. We made that instrument and it was later picked up and manufactured commercially.

Hellrigel:

NBS deals with national standards. It is a national laboratory, so you were a federal employee?

Hamilton:

Yes, then I became a federal employee.

Hellrigel:

The government owned patents that you produced?

Hamilton:

Yes. The government gets patents when possible. In general, I think the government regards patents as rather expensive and a bit of a nuisance, so it does not push patents. We didn't patent that particular device.

Hellrigel:

Then it was open for use.

Hamilton:

Yes.

In cases like the pyroelectric radiometer, NBS would often say “we've developed this great measurement technology. Here, you take it and manufacture it.” Anybody who wants all the trade secrets and so forth--well, they weren't secrets actually. They were unpublished papers. If you wanted the information, you could have it. This helps the economy and it helps the measurement community. That’s what NIST does, at least some of the time. There were others at NIST who felt that when they had developed a superior measurement technology, they should keep it in-house to keep the calibration money rolling in.

Hellrigel:

For more grants to be funded?

Hamilton:

Not for grants, grants were not very important in the laser measurement thing that I first did those first couple of years. Disseminating technology became more controversial with the voltage standard when, if you wanted your voltage standard device calibrated at the Bureau of Standards, it was calibrated with this Josephson system, which was the ultimate in accuracy. And the first one that was built was very difficult to operate and very expensive. And so I became involved in that project. We're getting a little bit ahead of the timeline here, but maybe we'll get back to that.

Hellrigel:

No, we'll go back. I was just curious because then you became a federal employee. I didn't know what happened to intellectual property. Fair use thing is what the government did.

Hamilton:

Yes. Anything that the government publishes I think is fair use. And government publications, I guess as you know, are not copyrighted. Yes, everything we did was published.

Hellrigel:

At what point did you become a member of IEEE?

Hamilton:

When I was a student, probably sophomore year.

Hellrigel:

Did you publish your papers in IEEE publications?

Hamilton:

They were published in IEEE and American Physical Society. Some of each. My Ph.D. thesis was published in physics journals. Physics Journal.

Hellrigel:

Your work was intertwined.

Hamilton:

Yes, physics, engineering and metrology are very much connected.

Hellrigel:

Then you were hired as a staff scientist at NBS. Did you work on projects that other people designed or did you get to design your own projects?

Hamilton:

Well, at the time, these Josephson devices had been developed and people saw a possible application in a super fast computer. IBM started a big project and as a result of their pouring in eventually $100 million to make a superconductive computer, other superconductivity projects sprang up at universities and some government labs. A small one was started at NBS. NBS hired Richard Harris to lead that project. He is getting an award for that work at the conference today.

Hellrigel:

Yes, Harris will receive the IEEE Max Swerdlow Award for Sustained Service to the Applied Superconductivity Community. I am also recording his oral history at this conference.

Hamilton:

I have to make it to that awards lunch, so we have to watch our time. When I saw the new project under Harris, I got out of the infrared detector business and back into superconductivity, which is where I always wanted to be. Then we started working on computer technology using Josephson junctions.

That was a great run for about six or eight years until it basically crashed.

Hellrigel:

What do you mean it crashed?

Hamilton:

In the beginning, people could cite a number of reasons that a superconducting computer would be the next big thing, the thing to work on. A big part of it was the heat dissipated by semiconductor computers. By operating with superconductors at very low voltages, you could gain six orders of magnitude in power dissipation. That was an easy selling point to get money from management or the government. It was the foundation of the IBM program.

Hellrigel:

Did IBM fund you also?

Hamilton:

No, our money came from NBS and also from government funding sources. This big program got started in multiple places across the country. People were predicting that the semiconductor devices were going to hit a brick wall in about 1995 or 2000. They just couldn't push them any further. Those papers that were probably written by the superconductivity people.

Hellrigel:

Who saw the limitation?

Hamilton:

They focused on the semiconductor limitations, but as time passed the semiconductor people hadn't really looked at those papers. They just kept going right through all the barriers that had been placed in front of them. The superconductor people started to see the reality of trying to make a computer out of devices that basically don't have gain. They're threshold switching devices. The projected performance of the superconducting computer was coming down and the performance of the semiconductors was going up. They were going to cross about 1995 or something like that. IBM saw the handwriting on the wall and cancelled the project. IBM’s decision sent the whole thing down, so it crashed.

Hellrigel:

They were improving the other technology at a pace that was quick enough that they decided to stick with it.

Hamilton:

Yes, well, it was the sensible thing to do.

Hellrigel:

Perhaps it was more affordable than going to superconductivity?

Hamilton:

Money wasn't too much in play at the time. The superconductivity thing certainly would not be cheap because you had to run the computer at 4 degrees absolute.

Hellrigel:

Gosh. They were not building a home computer.

Hamilton:

No, not a home computer. But what was left out of that was this other prediction of Josephson that you could make a perfectly accurate voltage with a Josephson device. And of course that fit into the mission of NBS, which is where I was working. And so we got going on that project. And my good friend Dick Kautz started into it first.

If you put one of these Josephson devices in a waveguide and you irradiate it, it produces a DC voltage. But a very small voltage. The most you can get out of a single junction is about 5 millivolts. In order to make a practical voltage standard, you need at least 1 volt or preferably 10 volts. So we had to put thousands of devices in series. Attempts to do this didn't produce the desired result. Kautz figured out that the problem is explained by chaos theory and he found the junction parameters to solve the problem. He also started a joint program between NIST and the PTB. The PTB had figured out how to get uniform microwave power to thousands of junctions.

Hellrigel:

What is PTB?

Hamilton:

Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt.

Hellrigel:

The Germans.

Hamilton:

Right, so the PTB people came over to use the superior NBS fabrication facilities. The two theories came together and they made a working Josephson standard at 1 volt. About that time, I moved from the dying digital superconductivity project and jumped into the voltage standard project. I worked with Kautz and others to try to make a chip that could be used in a practical way and by technicians. We had to develop all of the electronics to go with the chip--the biasing system, the microwave system, all of that put together in a rack and controlled by a computer, something that could be sold as a complete measurement system. It all came together in about 1996.

There was a little bit of a political problem because responsibility for the volt was in a different NBS division back in Gaithersburg. Here we were out in Boulder, and we came up with a better way to do their job. So of course Gaithersburg was the first to get this technology. But then we got into a little bit of trouble in Boulder because we started making these systems and passing them out to other labs – a threat to the NBS calibration business.

Hellrigel:

You needed permission to do that?

Hamilton:

As I recall, we didn't ask. We were in two different laboratories. We were in the engineering laboratory and they were in the physics laboratory and only the director stood above that. There was some grumbling, and eventually, we transferred the technology to a little company in New York called HYPRES. Maybe you've heard of HYPRES? It develops and commercializes superconductor electronic systems.

Hellrigel:

No, sir.

Hamilton:

They should be at this conference. The whole company is devoted to using superconductivity to make electronics devices, so this was right down their line. They have a fabrication facility that could make these chips. We gave the design to them. They started making chips and systems. I worked with them until I retired in 1999. I took that technology and all of my contacts out the door with me. I started a little company called VMetrix, which is just my wife and I. V as in volt, so VMetrix is volt measurement. That's the source of the name. I manufacture some of the special equipment that's required for the voltage standard chip. I do software and training courses. I'm still doing it.

Hellrigel:

Do you train other people to make this equipment?

Hamilton:

No, I train other people to use the equipment.

Hellrigel:

Where did you make your equipment? Do you work in your garage?

Hamilton:

The equipment I make right now?

Hellrigel:

Yes. The company consists of you and your wife, so do you have a manufacturing arm, a manufacturer working for you?

Hamilton:

We make the equipment in my son's former bedroom. He moved out, so we had a spare bedroom. We took out the bed, put in some benches and desks, and that's where I built stuff up until about six years ago. My daughter and her husband moved in, initially for financial reasons from the 2008 problem. Then they had two kids and we decided that we liked the three-generation household. We needed a bit more space, so we built some more upstairs space, which produced some more basement space. My office was moved from my son's old bedroom back into the basement office because we needed that bedroom for our grandchildren. And so there we are.

Hellrigel:

You are family oriented and having three generations living together is fantastic. In addition, you live and work in the same location just like an artisan or a doctor or a lawyer, and as many others did in the past.

Hamilton:

Yes, one big happy family.

Hellrigel:

I hope so.

Hamilton:

Yes, pretty much. It's a little bit noisy. I wish it were not quite so noisy.

Hellrigel:

What was your wife's background that she got into this work with you?

Hamilton:

Well, she is a dietitian and she has a master's in dietetics. She worked a variety of jobs around Boulder, including the County Health Department and nursing homes. When she retired I employed her as my CFO.

Hellrigel:

A chief financial officer?

Hamilton:

My chief financial officer. She does the books. She collects the money and then she picks out some far-ranging international trip and we go.

Hellrigel:

Okay, so you travel.

Hamilton:

Yes, we travel a lot.

Hellrigel:

Well, that's fortunate. While reading your bio I noticed you spent some time in China.

Hamilton:

I've been to China three times.

Hellrigel:

Recreation? Business?

Hamilton:

The first two were business trips. The first one was around 1986 when relations between the U.S. and China were improving. A memo went through the federal government asking for scientists who might be interested in a technical exchange with China. They were asking who wants to go to China, tell them about what you do, and give away all our secrets.

Hellrigel:

That's interesting. You were instructed to give away your secrets.

Hamilton:

The program was not described that way. It was a scientific interchange. They just wanted more connection with China. I applied and went to China where I gave a series of lectures on voltage standard devices and electrical measurements, everything that was in my field of expertise. I was led to believe that my audience would be full of top technical people intensely interested in standards. I gave my first lecture and then I started getting questions. The questions had nothing to do with my lecture. The types of questions they asked included: "How much money do you make?" or "How big is your house?" or "Tell me about your family."

Hellrigel:

The Chinese were interested in the U.S. and your standard of living.

Hamilton:

Yes. I had a couple of slides at the end of my presentation including a picture of the NIST (NBS) Boulder labs with a mountain backdrop and a picture of our house. Everybody woke up when those slides came on. So, this isn't 100 percent what happened, but it is what really surprised me. Their bureaucrats were giving me all these instructions about we want technical detail. When I got to the lecture site there was a completely different group of people. They were interested in culture.

Hellrigel:

Did anyone try to censor you and follow you?

Hamilton:

I was with somebody every moment of the time. I had a driver and I also had a woman who was part of their National Institute of Metrology who was assigned to take me around and see that I got everywhere. Nothing bad happened to me. I never felt censored and I never felt like I couldn't discuss politics, but I don't think I did discuss much in the way of politics.

Hellrigel:

They were intrigued about the west. They may have gotten bootlegged versions of American books, television shows, and movies.

Hamilton:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

It's not the internet age yet.

Hamilton:

It wasn't so much just the west. It was America.

Hellrigel:

True,

Hamilton:

What's an American style of life like?

Hellrigel:

Yes. Nixon visited China and sort of rationalized relations.

Hamilton:

It was part of the follow-up to Nixon's trip.

Hellrigel:

You did this type of exchange twice?

Hamilton:

Yes. I did that in 1986 and in the process I made good friends with a Chinese scientist. Later the Chinese scientists came to a CPEM conference held in Gaithersburg, Maryland and we talked some more. He said, "Can you find a position for me, a temporary position in the lab in Boulder? We'd like to see things first hand." The government was doing that kind of thing too, so the Chinese scientist came and stayed in Boulder for two years.

Hellrigel:

Two years.

Hamilton:

He worked in our lab and learned a lot of things. Although he was banned from the clean room, he had complete access to everything else. At that time, scientists were very poor in China, so one of his major goals was to take home as many U.S. dollars as possible.

Hellrigel:

Sure, funds for his family.

Hamilton:

Yes, his family had remained in China. He didn't see his family for two years.

Hellrigel:

Right. The Chinese government did not want the entire family abroad with him.

Hamilton:

He lived a very frugal life, so we had to have him over to dinner once or twice a week just to keep the skin on his bones. It was interesting. He then rose considerably in the Chinese government. He became their international metrology go-to person and he had a lot of power. Around the same time, my daughter took a teaching position in Shanghai.

Hellrigel:

Your daughter was teaching English?

Hamilton:

Well she was teaching first grade in English. Actually, it was an international school. Her first graders spoke seven or eight different languages, so it was quite the experience. We visited her and I told my friend we were coming. He said, "Oh, come see me. Give some more lectures. I can arrange lectures for you.” At this time, he had his own car and a driver seven days a week, so he said, "We'll get my driver and we'll take a tour of China." We could not turn that down. My wife was included in this tour of China. I gave a lecture at a big university. I wasn’t sure who would come to this lecture or the room or anything. In China you don't get to see that because the people collect in the lecture hall and you're in another room having tea and talking with the dignitaries. Then they open the door and you walk in to the lecture room.

Hellrigel:

You're on stage.

Hamilton:

Only then do you see what you're getting into. There were 1,000 people in front of me and my lecture was translated sentence by sentence.

Hellrigel:

During the lecture, there must have been a lag between you and the translator.

Hamilton:

It turned out to be more efficient than you might think because while it's being translated, you have the opportunity to think about the next sentence. In the end, you can convey the information fairly efficiently. Once again, there was time for questions. This was just after the first or during the first war in Iraq.

Hellrigel:

Yes, so this is 1990, 1991, or maybe 1992.

Hamilton:

Early… No, this was--

Hellrigel:

The first Iraq war, the Gulf War/Desert Storm, occurred between August 1990 and February 1991.

Hamilton:

Yes, Iraq. What was that? 2002 or something.

Hellrigel:

The U.S. invasion of Iraq occurred in 2003. I was thinking of Desert Storm.

Hamilton:

After the lecture, the first question is what's your position on the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

Hellrigel:

Oh my, that was a very pointed question.

Hamilton:

Another question was what did I think about the connection between quantum mechanics and the soul. Those were the kind of questions I was getting.

Hellrigel:

Wow, the questions were very diverse, ranging from physics to hot political issues.

Hamilton:

Although I was able to say that I had joined a war protest just before the invasion, I had not been prepared for political questions.

Hellrigel:

Did anyone ask about the war protest?

Hamilton:

I attended a protest in Denver. Bush came to Denver, so a protest was organized. It was in downtown Denver right around the convention center where we are holding the Applied Superconductivity Conference. There were a few thousand people milling around the building that Bush was in and we could see in these big windows all these people in fancy suits looking down. I don’t think Bush was with the group by the window, but he was aware of what was going on. I just recounted our experience with this protest and the Chinese were quite interested. I'm not sure the authorities were happy with me talking about the right to protest, but nothing came of it. Then they presented both of us with a huge bouquet of flowers.

Hellrigel:

I've seen that tradition of presenting flowers.

Hamilton:

We left the lecture hall, got in the car with our scientist friend and his driver, and spent a week traveling around China, all expenses paid.

Hellrigel:

It sounds like a fantastic adventure. Did you enjoy the tour? You're smiling.

Hamilton:

It was great fun and we had a very inside kind of experience.

Hellrigel:

Did you stay in cities or did you get to go to the countryside also?

Hamilton:

We typically went from city to city.

Hellrigel:

Did you get to look at any of their new industrial cities?

Hamilton:

Not particularly.

Hellrigel:

I see.

Hamilton:

We saw more Chinese historical sites.

Hellrigel:

Sure, you saw the Great Wall and similar sites.

Hamilton:

Yes, we saw the Great Wall, huge Buddhas, and things of that sort. We also saw their lab facilities.

Hellrigel:

Cool.

Hamilton:

We toured for a week.

Hellrigel:

Then you went back a third time.

Hamilton:

The third time we went over with Overseas Adventure Travel. Do you know that organization? We booked a three-week trip. That was just three or four years ago. What a fantastic change from the time before. China was not a third world country anymore; at least not in the many areas we travelled. Some areas looked a bit third worldish. We saw our friend again.

Hellrigel:

Still alive; good given the political and economic change.

Hamilton:

Still alive. Still kicking.

Hellrigel:

Good. Where else have you travelled for recreation?

Hamilton:

We’ve been to 100 countries, so we have travelled pretty much everywhere. My wife's been working hard in the travel department.

Hellrigel:

What's your wife's name?

Hamilton:

Susan. She’s the CFO.

Hellrigel:

I just want to get the details written down. Wow, you have had an interesting career.

Hamilton:

It's been fun and it’s still fun.

Hellrigel:

It's mystifying, at least to me, that Chinese people were allowed so close to the NIST laboratories given the political climate and security concerns

Hamilton:

Yes. My Chinese friend worked in the laboratory and had an office in the laboratory. I don’t know whether that would happen now. Well sure. It's happening now. The fellow who took over my position has had numerous Chinese guest workers in his lab and they work together. Some of the things I manufacturer in my 100-square-foot manufacturing facility, I've sold to China.

Hellrigel:

Did you encounter a lot of red tape to sell to China?

Hamilton:

It depends on what you're selling. If you're selling something that isn't on the list of munitions or things of that sort, including microwave things, you have less trouble. If the frequency gets too high, they get very sticky. Although the voltage standard system involves very high frequencies, the stuff I was making was not on the banned list. Until recently, that’s true, but now I do make a 66-78 GHz frequency synthesizer. However, I haven't sold one to China. If you want to sell something like that to China, you hire a company to take care of the process. You hire a U.S. company that knows how to do the paperwork and it raises the price by 15 percent or so. These U.S. trade companies somehow get by what seems to be iron clad restrictions.

Hellrigel:

Sure. It seems you never really retired. Do you consider retiring?

Hamilton:

No, I haven’t retired. No. If I retired, I'm not sure what it would look like and I think I'd be bored.

Hellrigel:

Your daughter is not an engineer?

Hamilton:

No, she's a schoolteacher.

Hellrigel:

Do you have other children?

Hamilton:

I have a son. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut. He's in the insurance business. He manages a business claims group.

Hellrigel:

You also have two grandchildren.

Hamilton:

Yes, two grandchildren that are living with us and two more in Connecticut.

Hellrigel:

Perhaps your grandchildren are budding engineers?

Hamilton:

Who knows? They're pretty young. One is three and the other is five years old.

Hellrigel:

But, they have the workshop and you are the instructor.

Hamilton:

Yes, they do love to come down in my workshop and see what I'm doing. Their mother does not like all the sharp tools on my bench. We have to be a little careful about that. Our son also has a workshop and his boys love to go down there with him.

Hellrigel:

True, yes. They might get injured by sharp tools and pointy objects. We have one last topic, IEEE. What role has IEEE played in your career?

Hamilton:

Now you should've warned me about that question.

Hellrigel:

Well, you attend this conference and you publish in IEEE journals.

Hamilton:

Right. IEEE runs lots of the conferences that I go to, so that's a way to connect with everybody in the field. I was an editor of the Applied Superconductivity Journal for, I don't know, three or four years. I was one of the subeditors, not the first editor, but I got to do lots of reviewing of papers and that sort of thing.

Hellrigel:

On the local level were you involved with IEEE meetings?

Hamilton:

I didn't go to very many meetings. However, one of the local IEEE meetings that I went to had a big effect. I was invited to speak on the voltage standard and this new quantum mechanical device that was making much more accurate voltages. Some people from Hewlett Packard were at the meeting. They were involved in finishing up the development of a very high accuracy volt meter, the HP3458.

In characterizing that meter, they had found that the meter was better than the best measurement devices they had to look at its linearity. Linearity was the key thing. They were claiming a 10th of a part per million, but they couldn't completely support that claim because the voltage dividers they were using had a similar uncertainty. They heard my talk and they said we want one of devices ASAP [as soon as possible].

Hellrigel:

This is when you had your own company?

Hamilton:

No, this was five or six years before I had my company. Well, nothing goes over better in NIST than an outside company saying you have just what they need. We were very cooperative and put a system together for them. We went up to Loveland where the work was being done, installed the system, and made sure it worked. They put a picture of that system on the cover of the HP journal, so we were the cover story. That journal was just a wonderful thing to put in front of NIST management to convince them we were doing something useful. I don't think NIST management always believes the employees when they say they are doing something useful. Somebody on the outside says that we are useful, and all of a sudden NIST management sees us as useful.

Hellrigel:

Yes, you've been vetted by the outside.

Hamilton:

Right.

Hellrigel:

You're telling the truth.

Hamilton:

It carries a lot more weight.

Hellrigel:

The applied superconductivity people hold this big conference every two years. This conference started fifty years ago. Do you attend superconductivity conferences?

Hamilton:

Yes. I went to every one, or almost every one, when I worked at NIST.

Hellrigel:

You are almost a member of the founders’ group. Well, not quite, but you have been attending for decades.

Hamilton:

Well, if being an attendee counts, I did go to a lot of them, yes.

Hellrigel:

Right. How has the field grown?

Hamilton:

Hugely.

Hellrigel:

IEEE is international. This conference held a reception last night and it was very international.

Hamilton:

Yes. Very international.

Hellrigel:

There seems to be a big representation from China.

Hamilton:

I'm sure. Yes, you may have noticed when we stepped on the elevator, twelve Chinese people stepped out.

Hellrigel:

Yes, they were trying to take the elevator to the meeting rooms. You can't take that elevator where they needed to go.

One question that is often asked to the women engineers when they were interviewed is not on the sheet of topics I sent you. What role did family play in your career? Did you do something or not do something for family? One fellow I talked to said he had his office and his house a few miles apart so that he could go home for dinner, and if need be, go back to the office later. It's always expected women engineers didn't take a track because of family. Did that have any role in your life?

Hamilton:

No, I don't think I could make that claim. We had kids right in the middle of my career, but I didn't have to take time off work. Well, not more than a few days. That was very typical at the time. There wasn't anything about family that held me back.

Hellrigel:

Just curious. Perhaps you did not take the job in West Virginia because of your family?

Hamilton:

Yes. That is a point, but not taking that job was a good thing.

Hellrigel:

True. Taking that job would not have been the best decision for your family.

Hamilton:

We never would've stayed there on that job.

Hellrigel:

Yes. It's nice country to visit, but it is awful isolated. Especially if you grew up in the city.

Hamilton:

A few years later, the guy who wanted to hire me left because his wife rebelled. The people running the observatory knew what they were up against.

Hellrigel:

You've received some awards from IEEE?

Hamilton:

Yes, some.

Hellrigel:

Have they been important in your career?

Hamilton:

You mean in terms of having the awards?

Hellrigel:

Right. Yes, do you feel your career's been a success when you get one of those awards?

Hamilton:

Sure, to some degree, but I've never worked to get awards.

Hellrigel:

I am just curious about an award’s impact. Some people sometimes get obsessed chasing awards and top level management posts, but you seem more laid back. You seem more Boulder-ish.

Hamilton:

Well, good. That's a compliment. I was never trying to get into management. I ended up there at a low level. I had about five people in a group and I was the group leader. One of the reasons I retired early was to get out of those group leader meetings.

Hellrigel:

I understand your desire to avoid meetings.

Hamilton:

I wanted to get back to my bench.

Hellrigel:

That's your work bench and site of creativity. Is there anything that we didn't cover that you would like to add?

Hamilton:

Not that I can think of right now.

Hellrigel:

What did you think when you were asked or approached to provide an oral history?

Hamilton:

I was a little surprised. I didn't know that IEEE did that. Then I went to the IEEE History Center’s website and the ETHW website. On the ETHW website

I looked at the list of people who recorded oral histories and I read some of the stuff there. All this is interesting.

Hellrigel:

Right. You must know Peter Lee.

Hamilton:

No.

Hellrigel:

He's involved with the IEEE Council on Superconductivity. He is the historian and he provided the list of people that I should interview. There were ten names on the list, including your name.

Hamilton:

Who else is on the list? Richard Harris?

Hellrigel:

Yes. I'll show you my list and then we'll wrap up.

Hamilton:

How are we doing on time?

Hellrigel:

We're doing fine it is 11:30 a.m.

Hamilton:

We've got lots of time.

Hellrigel:

Here is the list of people recording an oral history with me over the next few days. I tracked down nine folks, but I haven't been able to track down John Rowell. He's supposed to be at the conference, so I will look for him.

Hamilton:

Jack Ekin. There is a big representation from the NIST Boulder labs. One, two, three; three from the same lab.

Hellrigel:

You all worked together for a while?

Hamilton:

Well, Dick Harris was my boss for many years. He always gave great support to my projects and I was very appreciative. He was always putting me up for awards.

Hellrigel:

You are content with your career? For example, when you were a little kid you thought you'd be an engineer and you became a very successful engineer. So, do you consider yourself content? Did you fulfill your aspirations?

Hamilton:

Yes, I did. And now I am one as they say.

Hellrigel:

A friend graduated, with an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, used to joke, and falsely claim, about being an “illiterate enganneer.”

Hamilton:

Yes, there was a famous cartoon of a very nerdy-looking engineer holding his diploma and saying “six months ago I couldn't even spell engineer and now I are one.”

Hellrigel:

I thank you for your time as we conclude this oral history interview.