Oral-History:Richard Harris

About Richard Harris

Richard E. Harris was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 28 May 1941, and is a Senior Member of IEEE. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois.

Harris worked at the United Technologies for United Aircraft Research Laboratories, where he did research in aviation transport mechanics as well as other electronic and conductive studies. Much of his career has been spent at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) where he researched superconductive technologies and introduced NIST to lithography and superconducting integrated circuits. He was also the Group Leader for the Cryoelectronic Metrology Group on superconducting electronics as well the Quantum Devices Group.

Harris was awarded the 2016 IEEE Max Swerdlow Award for Sustained Service to the Applied Superconductivity Community.

In this interview, Richard Harris discusses his family, education, and career.

About the Interview

RICHARD E.HARRIS, An interview conducted by Mary Ann Hellrigel, IEEE History Center, 7 September 2016.

Interview #775, 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 NJ 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:

Richard E. Harris, an oral history conducted in 2016 by Mary Ann Hellrigel, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Richard E. Harris

INTERVIEWER: Mary Ann Hellrigel

DATE: 7 September 2016

PLACE: Applied Superconductivity Conference, Denver, CO

Family and Early Years

Hellrigel:

Today's Wednesday, September 7th, 2016. This is Mary Ann Hellrigel with the IEEE History Center. I'm here today with Dr. Richard E. Harris. We're at the Applied Superconductivity Conference in Denver at the Convention Center and we're here to report his oral history. Thank you for agreeing to do this sir.

Harris:

You are welcome. I had a new experience today. I took the bus from Boulder to Denver, which I have never done before. They have a new bus system which has pull-offs along a six-lane highway, so the bus never has to leave the highway. It seems to work really well and it’s just about as fast as a car. I wasn't even on the express bus.

Hellrigel:

Cool. It beats driving. Some of the information you've already sent me, but we'll just get it on the record.

Harris:

Yes, it beats driving and parking. Parking, that’s the bad thing.

Hellrigel:

You were born when and where?

Harris:

Kansas City, Missouri on May 28th of 1941.

Hellrigel:

You were born in Missouri, so you're a mid-westerner of sorts.

Harris:

Yes. My mother was from Niagara Falls, New York and my father was from a farm in Southeastern Kansas. They met at the University of Michigan.

My father became an aeronautical engineer and worked most of his life in Kansas City, Missouri for what was then called the Civil Aviation Administration. It's now the FAA.

During the Great Depression, my mother enrolled at the University of Michigan, but her father decided she was not studying hard enough, so she left.

Hellrigel:

What was your mom's name?

Harris:

Elizabeth Jean Rowe Harris.

Hellrigel:

What was your dad’s name?

Harris:

William Henry Harris.

Hellrigel:

Oh, William Henry Harris.

Harris:

Like President William Henry Harrison.

Hellrigel:

Yes, almost like the former president.

Harris:

His grandfather had the same name.

Hellrigel:

Your dad was born and raised on a farm?

Harris:

In his early days, they were on a farm in Southeastern Kansas. I've learned a little bit more about the area. The oil discovered in Southeastern Kansas was the major source of oil for the First World War effort by the United States.

Hellrigel:

I had no idea.

Harris:

I didn't either. The area is called the Flint Hills. I don’t know the whole story, but for some reason the family moved from the farm where the family originally homesteaded. They moved to a town called Parsons, Kansas. After the move, my grandfather drove a gravel truck. The oil discovered brought in enough money for them to live in town. I don’t know if it impacted them in any other way.

Hellrigel:

They made the transition from rural to small town America.

Harris:

They did.

Hellrigel:

The 1920 U.S. Census indicated that more people lived in urban than rural America. If the population exceeded 2,000, the Census Department designated the town as “urban.” The population move from rural to urban areas was part of the country’s transformation.

Harris:

Parsons, Kansas was not very big.

Hellrigel:

Your mom came from Niagara Falls, New York.

Harris:

Yes, her father was a paint chemist. He had a paint company called Rowe Paint and Varnish in Niagara Falls.

Hellrigel:

She enrolled at the University of Michigan.

Harris:

Yes, she attended college for a while, but she never finished.

Hellrigel:

Initially, did she intend to become a teacher? What did she study?

Harris:

I don't know.

Hellrigel:

Your parents met on campus and your dad was a little bit older than your mom.

Harris:

One year, so he was not much older.

Hellrigel:

Did they get married before your dad graduated?

Harris:

They got married after he graduated. I believe they got married in 1939.

Hellrigel:

Then your father’s job brought them to Kansas City.

Harris:

Yes. There was a little stop, a couple airplane companies, one in Baltimore, Maryland I think. I'm forgetting the names of the companies, but they were well known in those days.

Hellrigel:

Do you have any siblings?

Harris:

No.

Hellrigel:

When you were growing up did your parents expect you to go to college?

Harris:

I don't know. If I had to guess, I’d say they probably expected me to go to college. It never got discussed to the point that I remember such discussions, put it that way. By the time I got through high school I was usually the best student in the class and it seemed like going to college was the thing to do.

Hellrigel:

When you were a child what kind of hobbies or activities did you enjoy? For example, did you have erector sets and train sets or run around outside collecting nature specimens?

Harris:

Yes, I had two of them, an erector set and a train set.

Hellrigel:

Did you tinker with radios? Did you become a ham radio operator?

Harris:

No, but, my mother's brother was a ham radio freak.

Harris:

He told me he always felt guilty because he never got me involved in radio. We lived about fifty miles apart.

I have not mentioned, but when I was twelve years old my parents got divorced. My father stayed in Kansas City and my mother moved back east. We lived in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, which is adjacent to Niagara Falls. Her brother lived in Niagara Falls. There wasn't much opportunity to interact with him.

Hellrigel:

Did you have a tool shop and were you handy?

Harris:

I was handy, but that's something I would've picked up from my father, but he wasn't around. I had watched him change washers and faucets, so I just knew how to do that by age twelve. Yes, I did things like that.

Hellrigel:

Did you join associations like the Boy Scouts or play sports?

Harris:

I think not. What did I do? I mostly concentrated on getting good grades. That's what I remember anyway. I started concentrating on my grades in junior high school when I was still in Kansas City.

Hellrigel:

What subjects did you like the best in school?

Harris:

Probably science and math.

Hellrigel:

What were your least favorite subjects?

Harris:

Probably history. I hate to say this in front of you.

Hellrigel:

Do not worry. I can take it.

Harris:

You know what's funny, now that I'm 75, do I read science and math? I just read the biography of Hamilton and it was just gripping. It was especially gripping because in my education I didn't hear much about Hamilton. You tend to hear more about the presidents and we didn't do anything in depth. I'm sure I knew his name, but I didn't really appreciate him. I just sat down and read the whole book. It took me about one week and I didn't do much else.

Hellrigel:

The book has gotten great reviews and it provided the foundation for the Broadway play. Often people do not like history because it is taught as some sort of weird skill for memorizing one darn thing after another.

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

The presidents, you had to memorize them; then on to the vice presidents; the important dates; the big battles; and this and that. Where is the story?

Harris:

Yes, yes.

Hellrigel:

It turns people off.

Harris:

My mother tells me that when I graduated from high school there was a prize for the best grades in history and I won. The history teacher, who was beloved, told my mother, "He gets good grades, but he's a lousy historian." I don't know how old I was before my mother told me that story. But, I'm different now.

Hellrigel:

I wonder what the teacher meant by calling you a lousy historian. Did you have any jobs during school?

Harris:

I was photography editor for the yearbook. One summer I washed dishes in a little restaurant. During college, I had summer jobs that were technically related.

Education

Hellrigel:

When did you decide to go to the University of Rochester? Sure, it's in your neck of the woods, but so were other colleges.

Harris:

Well, roughly speaking, the University of Rochester is 100 miles from Buffalo. It was really funny. I had really good grades and I got into every place I applied. I picked Union College because it was supposedly good in science. I picked MIT which was good in engineering. Then I thought well, I better pick a large school, so I picked Northwestern. You mentioned that one. I really wasn't happy with any of them. It's so hard to imagine this from today's perspective. Today, even if you are really smart, you apply to a dozen schools and hope you get into one.

I didn't like any of them. During February of my senior year in high school, I told a high school guidance counselor my dilemma. She or he, I don't recall whether it was male or female, said why don’t you try the University of Rochester? My mother didn't have a car, so my uncle drove me to campus. For what reasons, I do not know, but I fell in love with it instantly. It was supposed to be pretty good in science and it wasn't too far from home. There was just something comfortable about the nature of the campus and the area. It was perfect. Today, you couldn't get admitted so late, but back then I got in. At the time, the University of Rochester had a close relationship with the Bausch and Lomb optical company. There was a Bausch and Lomb Science Scholarship and I got it. That and a New York Regents Scholarship saved by Dad a lot of money.

Hellrigel:

You were admitted to two honorary fraternities.

Harris:

Yes, Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa.

Hellrigel:

When did you know you wanted to study physics?

Harris:

Probably eighth grade. Somehow I got the idea that physics was the most fundamental of all the sciences. What do I know? I figured that's what I should do. I sort of ignorantly pursued it.

Hellrigel:

It was the era of atomic weapons and Sputnik, so physics and science were in the news.

Harris:

Yes, yes. I remember when Sputnik went up. It was 1957 and I was a sophomore. I remember walking to school and hearing the principal talk about Sputnik. I graduated high school in 1959.

Hellrigel:

Did the principal sound upset? Where people wondering what the heck are the Russians doing?

Harris:

I guess everybody felt that way a little bit, but mainly they were in awe. It just seemed like a major advance for the human race. It was a tremendous advance.

Hellrigel:

Did you enjoy attending the University of Rochester?

Harris:

Yes. When I started there were only about 1,200 students, not counting the graduate students. Now they have 4,000 undergraduates, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

Hellrigel:

Yes. The University of Rochester has expanded.

Harris:

Yes, yes.

Hellrigel:

Did any of the professors become a mentor?

Harris:

Yes, I suppose. Adrian C. Melissinos. I think he's still alive and in his 90s.

Hellrigel:

He was one of the physics professors?

Harris:

Yes. We had a mandatory class called senior lab. Basically, you had to think up an experiment and do it from scratch. It was probably a really good thing to do. I don’t know where I got the idea, maybe it was his idea, but I wanted to measure the Mossbauer effect. Basically, you take a radioactive source and...

Hellrigel:

Wait a minute. They let you touch radioactive material?

Harris:

I haven't had cancer yet. That's all I can say. These were fairly low-energy emissions, I can’t remember which kind, but I think they were beta electrons. Then you measure the energy by moving the source with respect to a detector. We mounted the source on a loud speaker because you were measuring the clicks, if you will, quietly with respect to the velocity of the loudspeaker. The experiment worked. It wasn't research-quality results, but it worked. It was really fun, too. The University of Rochester had an IBM 1620 computer, which was a computer that was maybe a little higher than this desk and 50 percent bigger in each direction. By today's standards it was just nothing.

Hellrigel:

Miniscule.

Harris:

Yes. Yes. It was not as powerful as some little microchip that runs your washing machine or whatever today. I had a lot of fun and since then I have always been fascinated by computers. I was fascinated by all aspects of using computers, not building them.

Hellrigel:

Did they teach you to write code?

Harris:

Oh, I wrote code. I sort of learned that myself. I don't know whether they taught me anything.

Hellrigel:

At what point did you decide to go to graduate school?

Harris:

I got good grades in college and it was just sort of assumed that I would go to graduate school. I was pretty good in college, but I was not one of those people who is absolutely precocious and does everything perfectly. I was a little bit of a notch below those kind of people.

Hellrigel:

You were human and less focused on perfection.

Harris:

Maybe. Yes. I applied to Stanford and Berkeley. I wanted to go to California. I don't know why.

Hellrigel:

It was the 1960s.

Harris:

Well, maybe that's right.

Hellrigel:

People were moving to California since the era of World War II.

Harris:

Yes, yes.

Hellrigel:

They were moving in droves.

Harris:

That could've affected me psychologically, but there was a young professor who just started at the University of Rochester and he came from Stanford. He did some of the really early work in superconductivity.

Hellrigel:

Who was this professor?

Harris:

Ron Parks. Ronald Parks. I can't remember his middle initial. He was just incredibly exciting and talked about quantum mechanics. When I was a senior that just really gripped me.

Hellrigel:

I guess he recommended Stanford.

Harris:

No, he didn't. I also thought about staying at Rochester, but Parks recommended against staying at the University of Rochester. He thought I should get experience with different people. I really wanted to go to Stanford. I applied to Illinois because I thought Berkeley was too big. I did not know, but Illinois was bigger. I ended up going to Illinois.

Hellrigel:

Did the University of Illinois give you funding?

Harris:

Yes. Everybody got funding. In those days, if you were a physics graduate student, you got funding. You may have had to teach, but you got full funding. When I got into Stanford I did not get admitted to the physics department. I got admitted to a newly-created applied physics department and Ron Parks felt that was a less-distinguished, undesirable acceptance. I got that advice from Parks. It's so ironic because what have I done now? I've gone into applied physics. However, chances are if I'd gone to Stanford I would've done something entirely different than what I ended up doing. I don't know why I didn't go to Berkeley. I can't remember that right now. I went to Illinois.

Hellrigel:

When did you notice Illinois may have been big?

Harris:

Ron Parks strongly advised me to apply to Illinois. I got a research assistantship, which meant I wouldn’t have to teach. I could work for a professor, so that may have motivated me to choose Illinois instead of Berkeley. I just really don't know.

Hellrigel:

Right. Folks prefer the research assistantship because they are spared from being a teaching assistant and grading many exams and papers.

Harris:

Well, to me it just seemed more distinguished, so that was probably my motivation. After the first year, I got a fellowship from NASA. I think it continued through the rest of my time in graduate school.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Other people I interviewed this week mentioned having a NASA fellowship throughout much of graduated school.

Harris:

Oh, really?

Hellrigel:

Some of the gentlemen I interviewed mentioned receiving a three-year NASA fellowship.

Harris:

The really prestigious fellowships were from the National Science Foundation. The NASA was a step a little bit below, but it was money.

Hellrigel:

It was still very prestigious and funding decreased the probability of coming out of grad school in debt.

Harris:

Right, right, right.

Hellrigel:

I tell students you don't go to graduate school unless you get the funding.

Harris:

Yes. Yes.

Hellrigel:

Did you like Illinois?

Harris:

The answer is yes, but I'm just thinking a little bit to see if there was anything I didn't like. I met my wife at Illinois; that was really good!

Hellrigel:

Did she major in physics?

Harris:

No, she was in history.

Hellrigel:

Perhaps she intended to go into teaching?

Harris:

Yes, and no. She tells awful stories. She went to Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa as an undergraduate. Ames was thirty-five miles from where her parents lived. Her brother, who was four years older, also went to Iowa State University.

Hellrigel:

In-state arch rivals.

Harris:

Yes. The University of Iowa was quite a bit farther away, but still only a half a day's drive at the most. My wife tells one story about a professor at Iowa State. How does the line go? I'm forgetting the details at the moment, but she was certainly advised not to go to graduate school because she'd just get married. That was very common in those days.

Hellrigel:

Even in my graduate school, some of the more senior professors said their attitude changed over the years. Funding was limited, so they said, "Ah, we're going to give it to the guys because that woman is just going to go off and get married and not use her degree." It took a long time for them to change their minds and look at students equally. They did not change their minds until at least the early 1980s.

I actually taught at Iowa State for one year.

Harris:

Really?

Hellrigel:

After I graduated from Case Western Reserve University, I had a one-year appointment during the 1997-1998 academic year at Iowa State. I was a visiting professor, filling in for an assistant professor on sabbatical. I taught undergraduate and graduate courses and I was on a political science master’s thesis committee. It was pretty cool to be appointed to the graduate faculty.

Harris:

My wife went to graduate school and earned a master's in history. I suppose I should feel guilty about this next development. She was going to go to Boston University and get a Ph.D. in history, but we got married instead.

Hellrigel:

Well, during that era, that was not an uncommon decision.

Harris:

After that, she had a total career change. She became a Unitarian Universalist Minister. She started that new career when she was about forty years old. Coincidently, we both retired about ten years ago.

Hellrigel:

She earned a doctorate in divinity.

Harris:

It was actually a master's in divinity. She was about forty and we had an eight-year-old daughter. My wife went to the Star King School for the Ministry at Berkeley. The Unitarians had three places; Berkeley, Harvard, and Chicago. They weren’t part of those universities, but they were neighboring and affiliated. There's a place at Berkeley called Holy Hill. If I remember correctly, there were seven divinity schools right across the street from the Berkeley campus. Unitarians are supposed to be broad-minded, so she took courses from Baptists and Catholics and she loved it. She also loved doing the job.

Hellrigel:

During graduate school, one of my professors was a Unitarian. When he heard the word trinity, he just shook his head. He was not a minister. He was a Unitarian by denomination.

Harris:

I'll be darned.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Yes.

Harris:

We jumped around a little bit.

Hellrigel:

Yes, sometimes the discussion wanders a bit. You met your wife when she was getting her master's in history and you stayed at Illinois for your Ph.D.

Harris:

Yes, I spent another two years at Illinois. Oh, but I have to tell you the story.

We lived in a cut-up old house, which many students do. I was standing outside one day and this woman came up on her bicycle with two baskets by the rear wheel filled with groceries. We talked and had a good time. Then she disappeared around the corner of the building with the groceries in her hand. I thought to myself, "Damn it, why didn't I carry the groceries for her?" I should have helped because to enter those little places you went through the outside door and then there were three or four more doors. I didn't know which door she entered. I knew which side of the house, but not which door. I spent the whole afternoon calling the university trying to find out. I looked at the names on the mailboxes, but I hadn't asked her name. Finally, about 10:30 p.m. I went over and took a chance and knocked on a door. I picked the right one. I said do you want to go out for pizza? She said no, but do you want to come in? We just talked until 2:30 a.m. It was purely talking. Nothing else. And seven months later we got married. It was pretty cool.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Did she ever ask why didn't you carry the bags?

Harris:

No. She never asked. Maybe it's because when I tell the story it's the thing I sort of apologize for in the beginning.

Hellrigel:

Then she gets a master's and you stay on for your Ph.D.

Harris:

Right, which was two more years at that point.

Oh, and the other thing was, now I'm telling you my love life, I couldn't get her to go out with me. She was getting a master's in history and instead of a thesis she had to write two extensive papers. She was always having to work on her papers. One day I said, “this weekend I'm going to rent an electric typewriter and I'm going to type your paper.” She agreed. We sat down and she kept feeding me more text.

Hellrigel:

You sat there typing.

Harris:

In high school I learned how to touch type and I was better than some of the girls. Yes, we typed her paper. The remarkable thing about that paper is, no, wait. That was the one she'd already done. I typed the second paper which was about family relations in early America.

The other paper was about the civil rights movement in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois from 1945 to 1951. All the veterans were coming back and the black veterans didn't like how they were treated. The president of the university really helped in modernizing the university's practices. Remarkably for that early time the State of Illinois already had pretty good civil rights laws.

When Catharine was a student her professor must have liked the paper because he asked "Do you want to publish it?" She said no because she didn't have the foggiest idea how to do it. What he was telling her was I will help you publish this paper.

A couple of years ago, about 50 years after she graduated, she called up an old history professor from Illinois. By the time she called it turned out that professor was long since dead, but she found another former teacher. He helped her through the mechanical parts and she published her first and only paper a couple of years ago. It's about civil rights movement in Champaign-Urbana.

Hellrigel:

In terms of the civil rights movement you don’t hear much about Champaign-Urbana.

Harris:

Right. It's sort of between northern and southern behavior.

Hellrigel:

Well, yes. By the early 1950s, the NAACP’s strategy focused on access to educational institutions through the court system.

Harris:

The biggest part of her source material was the student newspaper because there were demonstrations around town. The Unitarians were involved, but she wasn't really a Unitarian at the time she wrote the paper.

Hellrigel:

In this discussion we have come full circle.

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Did you have a mentor for your Ph.D.?

Harris:

Yes. He was my thesis advisor Donald M. Ginsberg. He was really quite good. He enabled me to do research that aimed at the microscopic properties of electrons and superconductors, which is what I was interested in.

Career

Hellrigel:

By this time, the technology has been developed for studying it. It seems more people were interested in it. Others have mentioned papers written by John Steckly [Z.J.J. Steckly] in the early 1960s. The first Applied Superconductivity Conference was held in 1966. It seems the mid-1960s are a very important time period in superconductivity research. It was on the cutting-edge.

Harris:

That's why I went to Illinois. It's now dawning on me. I guess, the theory of superconductivity had been invented at the University of Illinois. The three people involved included the senior professor John Bardeen of semiconductor fame. He's the only person--or was at the time the only person--to be awarded two Nobel Prizes in the same field. Both Nobel Prizes were in physics. Somebody else, and I'd have to think who it was, got one for technical work and a second one for peace work. In those days, Bardeen was just a God. He came from Bell Labs where he had done early work on the transistor.

Hellrigel:

Did you work with Bardeen?

Harris:

I took solid state physics from him. They were theorists, so I did not work with them. Ginsberg, my advisor, was an experimentalist, but we did research that tied in very closely with the theory that had been developed.

Hellrigel:

I guess at that point you're just trying to find the properties of different materials?

Harris:

Well, it turns out there's a funny thing in superconductors. When metals carry electricity it's really the motion of electrons inside them that carries the electricity.

You can think of them as particles or waves, whichever, but that's what carries the electricity. Now the funny thing about superconductors is when you cool them down, the electrons form pairs. It's called a quantum state. It's fairly miraculous, but they pair up so that any time an electron bumps into something, like an ion within solid material, the electron with which it’s paired also bumps an ion and scatters off like a billiard ball. The two paired electrons do exactly the opposite of each other. They cancel out and there's no resistance.

Hellrigel:

They'll resist if there is no pairing.

Harris:

Yes, right. The bumping into things in normal materials is what causes the electrical resistance. But in this case, this quantum state miraculously has them bumping into different things but with the opposite momentum change. That was really fascinating to me and lots of people at the time.

Well, it turns out there's a funny thing in superconductors. When metals carry electricity it's really the motion of electrons inside them that carries the electricity.

You can think of them as particles or waves, whichever, but that's what carries the electricity. Now the funny thing about superconductors is when you cool them down, the electrons form pairs. It's called a quantum state. It's fairly miraculous, but they pair up so that any time an electron bumps into something, some ion within solid material, the electron with which its--and, and it bumps in and scatters off like a billiard ball. The paired electron does exactly the opposite. The two cancel out and there's no resistance. The bumping into things…

Hellrigel:

They'll resist.

Harris:

Yes, right. The bumping into things in normal materials is what causes the electrical resistance. But in this case, this quantum state miraculously has them bumping into different things. That was really fascinating to me and lots of people at the time.

Harris:

I see, yes.

Hellrigel:

In the history of technology, too much is made of the alleged battle of the systems pitting Thomas Edison and direct current against George Westinghouse and alternating current. It was a marketing battle whereby each got a lot of free publicity for their product. Besides, in 1886 most regions or areas that were being electrified weren't more than one square mile, so AC was really unnecessary. It was publicity. A publicity fight because Edison was dominating the direct current market and Westinghouse wanted to break into the electric light and power market because the future looked rosy.

Harris:

And that was sure right. Look at all these lights that back up you and up there.

Hellrigel:

Yes. I also looked at the competition between manufactured gas and electricity. When electric lighting was introduced manufactured gas did not go away. Providers of manufactured gas and appliance manufactures improved their products, going head to head with “the dogs in the manager.” A leader in the manufactured gas industry referred to those upstart electric companies with that derogative phrase. Until World War I, manufactured gas competed with electricity in many places in the U.S.

Harris:

For lighting?

Hellrigel:

Yes, for illumination, and heat (cook stoves, irons, and other appliances).

Harris:

What does manufactured mean in that context?

Hellrigel:

You get coal, burn it, suck the gas off, and then either store it in a gasometer or immediately distribute it through a network of pipes.

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

It was called coal gas. The commercial introduction of manufactured gas began in the U.S. around 1810 and a little earlier in the U.K. It was in towns and they used it for illumination. It some places it was used for heat and cooking. When electric light and power were commercialized the manufactured gas companies started to make improved light fixtures and appliances that ran on manufactured gas. Today, in chemistry labs you find the old Bunsen burner. In the same way, an appliance was linked to the gas source by a rubber tube and you could buy a clothes iron and toasters, coffee pots, heat and cook stoves, etc. Some towns had dual systems and customers played the providers off of each other much as we might deal with the cable company or the satellite dish company today. One of the federal office buildings in Washington, D.C. built just around World War I had pipes put in for manufactured gas lighting and wiring installed for electricity because you wanted to play both companies off each other for the better price.

Sure Edison started the Pearl Street central station, serving a portion of lower Manhattan in September 1882, but this story skims the surface and it is very incomplete.

In addition, resistance was a big issue with electric lamps or light bulbs.

Harris:

Sure, and you want resistance there, yes.

Hellrigel:

If the flow of electricity was inconsistent, the light flickered, and you burnt out the lamp filaments. I learned a little bit about physics researching the history of technology. I also won the physics award in high school, but that was a long time ago.

Harris:

I never read much about that. That's really neat.

Hellrigel:

Yes. In the 1980s, I worked on a documentary editing project at Rutgers University called the Thomas A. Edison Papers. I reorganized archival material and selected documents for a microfilm edition of Edison’s manuscripts. Yes, that's what I'm interested in.

However, superconductivity and this whole notion of no resistance seems mysterious and magical. It is invisible to the naked eye. How does superconductivity happen? That's what I found perplexing. In my mind it's almost as if I would need a microscope to watch the process.

Harris:

Absolutely, yes.

Hellrigel:

Sure, electricity was invisible, but you knew it was there because you got a shock or you saw the iron filings move around on the paper. The whole electron thing is too far ahead.

Harris:

Yes, yes. For my thesis, we illuminated a very thin film of superconductor with far infrared radiation. The electrons that are doing the opposite thing were bound; you can think of them as bound together by a spring. Above a certain infrared frequency there would be enough energy from the radiation that it would split the pairs. Then you could see the superconductor start to absorb the infrared radiation. You could measure what’s called the energy gap. At about the same time, other ways came along that involved electron tunneling.

Hellrigel:

It became your research and dissertation topic?

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

In comparison to a history Ph.D. the physics Ph.D. seems to wrap up quicker.

Harris:

It's interesting because I was talking to somebody on Monday at this conference. He probably was about my age. I don't know. Just observing. I forget who we were talking about. We were talking about somebody who'd done Ph.D. in humanities or something. Maybe he was talking about his daughter and the need for her to finish her thesis. We observed that you conduct the science experiments and then you only spend a couple months at the end writing it all down. It's all so different and I had never thought about that before.

Hellrigel:

Yes, it's a whole different thing.

When you were a graduate student at Illinois did you teach or were you a research assistant all the time?

Harris:

The only thing I remember teaching was computer programming. During a summer job at IBM, I learned how to program computers in a now archaic language called Fortran. Do you remember with the IBM machine called 1620?

Hellrigel:

I've heard of it and I am sure my dad learned it in computer school in the early 1970s.

Harris:

Sure. You're too young to have known much about Fortran. I taught an unofficial impromptu class in how to program computers with Fortran.

I taught all these senior professors because I had been lucky enough to have Fortran training at IBM. My thesis advisor was a good student too. Because he then wrote programs himself. I never taught any real courses and I never gave people grades.

I did do some teaching at my first job, which was in East Hartford, Connecticut at United Technologies. Maybe we're skipping too much.

Hellrigel:

No, all is well.

Harris:

I taught a couple of evening courses in elementary modern physics at the University of Hartford. They were in the evening for people who worked during the day. It was fun. I love to give talks. However, I've never done much teaching.

Hellrigel:

Did you ever think about a career in teaching rather than research?

Harris:

Well, in physics it was not the choice. If you went to an academic institution, you wouldn’t last very long if you didn't do research.

Hellrigel:

Yes, history professors are expected to teach and do research with an emphasis on the latter.

Harris:

Yes, in physics you did the teaching, too.

Hellrigel:

Yes. When you were getting out of college with a Ph.D., how was the job market?

Harris:

It was 1969 and it was beginning to get scary. I don’t know if this number's right, but I remember applying for nine jobs. I got a lot of them, so I needn't have been so scared. If you get an interview, I guess you get somebody to pay your transportation to come look the place over.

Hellrigel:

Sure, your interview expenses should be covered.

Harris:

Yes, yes. I met a lot of people, and even for the jobs I turned down, they turned out to be useful contacts later on. So it wasn't wasted. I applied to be a physics professor at Middlebury College.

Hellrigel:

Yes, in Vermont.

Harris:

Yes, right. That's where our daughter ended up going. I don't know how much I influenced her. That was my touching base with the small college and the idyllic life in rural Vermont. They made a big mistake because they offered me $7,000 to equip my lab.

Hellrigel:

Oh no, $7,000 would not buy much lab equipment.

Harris:

It wouldn’t buy much, so it made me conscious of the difficulty of doing research in a place like that. I decided not to take the job. It was a big decision and who knows how my life would've turned out had I gone to Middlebury College.

Hellrigel:

Primarily, you would've been teaching undergraduates with the emphasis on teaching as opposed to research.

Harris:

Yes and I'm sure I would’ve enjoyed it immensely.

Hellrigel:

But different.

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Instead, you ended up at United Technologies in East Hartford, Conn.

Harris:

Right. At the time, it was called United Aircraft Research Laboratories. The company changed its name just about the time I left.

Hellrigel:

You were going to do basic research.

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

The clients would've been the aviation industry, the government, the military…?

Harris:

Well, that's a perfectly good question. First of all, they were a big defense contractor. If you were writing a book and you wanted to create a mystery, I would probably tell you at this point that nobody at Illinois advised me about layoffs in the aerospace industry. That's a foreboding.

Hellrigel:

Yes, you are foreshadowing the economic trouble ahead. It looked like a solid industry, but hard times were around the corner.

Harris:

Good salaries and pretty good equipment. In those days, if you were a big defense contractor, the government was trying to encourage basic research. Whenever they gave a company like that one a contract--maybe the government bought some jet engines--they took a very small percentage of that money and called it industrial research and development (IR&D) funding. Then the company was supposed to do profoundly good basic research. I got hired to do basic research at United Technologies. I was an experimental physicist at United Technologies Research Center.

Hellrigel:

Yes, they manufactured aviation parts and they also did research.

Harris:

Well, I was at the research labs. We did fairly basic stuff. I learned a lot because I went to many seminars in fields that I didn't know about. One seminar was about helicopter blades that go around in circles. In quantum mechanics there are wave functions and energy spectra and so on. The mathematics involved in quantum mechanics is very much like this rotating helicopter blade. I saw that the mathematics they were using for helicopter blades was every bit as sophisticated as what I had been learning related to quantum mechanics. They were completely different fields, but there were enough physicists so I was not isolated. We can have a pretty snooty view of our field as the best field.

Hellrigel:

I guess they were mechanical engineers.

Harris:

The snooty view considered mechanical engineering a field for those not good enough to be a physicist. I came away with just a profound appreciation for what these people were doing. That's one big thing I learned there.

Hellrigel:

You have to know the property of the metals. You don't want your equipment, such as a propeller, to fail.

Harris:

Yes, you do not want it to fly apart. Right, but and you need to know the forces on the blades too.

Hellrigel:

Yes, and the forces in the jet engine, etc.

Harris:

Yes, so I'm talking an awful lot here.

Hellrigel:

No, we're about halfway through. Earlier, I tried to explain to another interviewee that these oral histories are personal stories, but each adds to the history of engineering and the history of engineers and scientists. When I am putting together these histories I want to know how and why each person became an engineer, a scientist, or a businessperson. I want to know what you really do. While the history of superconductivity is a new topic for me I am starting to see a pattern.

Harris:

Neat.

Hellrigel:

Many of you worked with the same people. You're of the same generation. Most decided to go into research. Most would weather the funding dip after or during the Vietnam War. I see patterns. The IEEE History Center’s oral history program will include about seventeen interviews. Some were conducted two years ago, and I am adding ten this year. If you bring them together, you'd have a pretty good story to tell.

Harris:

Interesting.

Hellrigel:

If you look at where people attended college and graduate school, you will also see a pattern. MIT, Illinois, the University of Rochester...

Harris:

I applied to Stanford and Berkeley and didn't go there, and—

Hellrigel:

Yes, Stanford, Berkeley, Oxford, and Cambridge, too. After earning their doctorate, many worked at the national laboratories and were associated with research universities. Few took university teaching posts. I haven't heard mention of colleges in the south, but today the University of Florida and the University of Houston have superconductivity graduate programs and research centers. It seems in the early years, academic research in superconductivity may have been clustered at the big land-grant colleges of the Midwest and MIT. Maybe this is linked to government funding during and after World War II. I am still pondering.

Some engineering schools, such as Stevens Institute of Technology, decided they were going to focus on undergraduate education. By the time Stevens wanted to become a big R& D university in the 1990s, that boat had sailed. How can you catch up to an MIT or a Berkeley? These research universities had substantial graduate programs and lots of grants and government and corporate research projects. Stevens is focusing on select fields and expanding its graduate program, but it is tough to catchup.

Thus far, those are some of the patterns that I see.

Harris:

Harvard is one that now is really good in our field. I don't know when that started because when I was applying, Harvard was not really a place to go. It may be just the accidental selection of who was on the faculty. I don't know. When I was at United Technologies Harvard was the nearest place. It was roughly 100 miles away, so I used to drive up there and go to the group's seminars of Michael Tinkham. Have you heard that name before? He died a year or two ago. He was one of my big heroes.

Tinkham has a wonderful book out, which has been out for a long, long time. I actually was lucky enough to get hired to review the book before it was published. I think I made $200 and it took me weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks to go through it with a fine tooth comb. I was glad to have the excuse to go through it. If I did not have to write the review, I never would've read the whole book, so that was a real treat.

Hellrigel:

If you review a manuscript, you usually get a small stipend and a copy of the book.

Harris:

I don't know. I probably got a free copy. He did make an error in my name in the acknowledgements. I have to look it up and see.

Hellrigel:

Did you enjoy working at United Technologies?

Harris:

Yes, absolutely. I had really good colleagues; interesting, kind, and helpful. There are three parts to this Applied Superconductivity Conference, including bulk applications, materials, and electronics. I was at United Technologies at the time people were just learning how to make Josephson junctions using the same kind of lithography that you use for semiconductors. United had some of those capabilities, which weren't available any place else I'd been, so I learned all about it.

You may have heard about another program that got started at IBM. They were going to try to build a superconducting computer.

Hellrigel:

I heard some people say in the end that program was not very successful.

Harris:

Yes, that's probably fair. However, they developed a huge amount of good science and technology.

Hellrigel:

IBM may have had the new wire, but the computers took too much energy?

Harris:

Right.

Hellrigel:

The old mainframes.

Harris:

Right. It seemed like the superconductors would help with that issue and it also seemed like they were faster.

This story is jumping a little bit. I stayed at United Technologies until I got laid off. Frankly, it was emotionally devastating. This is the first place we lived as adults, our daughter was born there, and we had friends. We lived in a town called Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Hellrigel:

Yes, getting laid off is devastating and it turns your entire world upside down.

Harris:

It was a huge problem because of a whole lot of reasons. Although I was scared half to death, I managed to get a new job pretty quickly. I got three offers. One was from IBM, which at the time along with Bell Labs was one of the two best solid state physics laboratories in the world. You just can't use enough accolades. They were beginning to use their semiconductor technology for superconductors and it was very exciting. The people were extraordinarily good.

I also got an offer from a Los Angeles company called the Aerospace Corporation. It runs a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC), offering technical advice and analysis. It works closely with the U.S. Air Force.

The third offer came from the National Bureau of Standards (NBS is now NIST, so it will be referred to as NIST) in Boulder, Colorado. Before I got laid off from United Technologies they had sent me out to NIST Boulder. It was a good place in superconducting electronics, but much more primitive than IBM.

Hellrigel:

In the end, the NIST job proved a better choice than IBM?

Harris:

I don't know whether it was a better choice or not, but we certainly were happy living and working in Boulder. Maybe there was the possibility of being a slightly bigger fish in a small pond. You talked to Clark Hamilton already?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Harris:

I know.

Hellrigel:

I also interviewed Jack Ekin.

Harris:

Yes, right. Jack does things related to materials. I actually led the organization that they were both in at times. What was the point that I was going to make?

Hellrigel:

You were discussing why you picked NIST over the other two job offers.

Harris:

It was a horrible, very difficult decision. It was hard to turn IBM down because it was such a good lab.

Hellrigel:

It must have been a stressful time. IBM was an established company, a blue chip company.

Harris:

Yes. Well, that wasn’t the factor. The important factor was how good IBM was at this particularly kind of science and technology, aerospace. However, to get a decent house, it seemed I was going to have to drive at least an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half, each way to and from work. I didn't want to do it. But it was an interesting lesson because that was the first offer. My friends at United said don't turn anything down until you have another fully-acceptable offer. So I held out on that one and one of the people there is here at this conference. His name is Arnold Silver. I don't suppose you've run into him. He's one of the real old timers who discovered quantum effects and superconductivity. He was at Aerospace at that time.

Hellrigel:

No, I have not met him.

Harris:

You should see if you can find him. I don't know whether this is within your control. But if you can round him up at this conference, he's here with his wife and he's still got it all together. Don’t tell him I said this.

Hellrigel:

Yes. [Arnold Silver’s oral history was conducted two years ago by my predecessor.] Peter Lee gave me a list of ten people to interview. The IEEE Council on Applied Superconductivity wants to preserve the history of superconductivity. I have been in contact with most via e-mail. I am walking around the conference looking for them so that I can say hello before their interview.

Harris:

I see.

Hellrigel:

There was some talk of interviewing up to thirty people, but I said I cannot record thirty oral histories in five days. I'm looking around to see who else may be a candidate for the IEEE History Center’s our oral history program. Because at first he said ten. Then he said thirty. I said I can't do thirty interviews in five days.

Harris:

In a week, yes.

Hellrigel:

We settled on ten and Peter sent me the list of persons he wanted interviewed.

Harris:

If you want to tell Arnold that you got his name from me, I'd be pleased actually.

Hellrigel:

Do you know where he lives?

Harris:

Well, it's near Los Angeles. There's a place called Palos Verdes. And maybe that's where he is. I probably have his home address.

Hellrigel:

Yes. I'll see if I could find him at the conference. I stick out, walking around with my camera and tripod.

Harris:

I'm sure you could find out the hotel where he's staying.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I'll ask downstairs at information.

Harris:

Yes, yes. You don’t have much time to get in touch with him and you've got other interviews.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I have two more interviews tomorrow.

Harris:

Yes. Yes. Arnold would be a really good one because he was right in on the founding of all this.

[This is one of the reasons that I got this prize this time.] Arnold and another guy named Jim Zimmerman did most of this work together and are considered to be the fathers of SQUIDs. Have you heard the term SQUIDs?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Harris:

Superconducting quantum interference devices.

Jim Zimmerman was so famous. When I was in management at NIST it was just like having a God in your group. His presence is one of the reasons that our group got so good. It attracted other people. It certainly gave me pause.

Hellrigel:

This is a fantastic lead. I will look up Jim Zimmerman and suggest he sit down to record his oral history.

Harris:

Jim regrettably passed away a number of years ago.

Hellrigel:

During your NIST career, you moved into management.

Harris:

I did research for about the first half of my career and then I ended up as a manager. My research faded as I became increasingly involved in management. While some management involved trivial tasks, it was not vital that I knew the technology that we must acquire to be really good. I brought to NIST the capability of doing lithography and making superconducting integrated circuits. We started all this at NIST. We needed to buy semiconductor equipment and it was very expensive. We really didn't have much of this equipment and we really didn’t have much money at all. I remember spending hours on the telephone making blind calls to lithography departments in all the major electronics companies and asking them, "Do you have any old equipment that you want to get rid of?" People in NIST thought I should be able to get gifts. I never did. We had to buy it.

Hellrigel:

I see, you bought used equipment from these companies.

Harris:

Yes. They were going to throw the equipment away anyway. The newer equipment worked faster and the companies needed the faster equipment because they needed to get things done quickly. We were a research program, so speed was less important. For a long time, we exclusively used secondhand equipment.

Hellrigel:

You made an ingenious and creative decision to buy cast-off equipment. It might also happen at other national laboratories, but I have never heard this part of the story.

Harris:

You didn't?

Hellrigel:

No. Usually, historians tell the tale of new inventions and innovations. Likewise, oral histories do not mention the nitty-gritty details. It's usually clean.

Harris:

Oh, yes.

Hellrigel:

Your strategy made sense. Funds were limited and the companies were not going to use the old equipment. Did these companies attempt to donate the equipment as a tax write-off? Since you could not accept gifts, did they charge a token price?

Harris:

The write-off wasn't enough.

Hellrigel:

Yes. They wanted more cash.

Harris:

Yes, yes. Companies pay taxes, so the notion of giving the equipment to the federal government was unacceptable. Their attitude was I'm not going to give anything more to the government.

Hellrigel:

True.

Harris:

I think that colored the whole thing. We did other things. We had old equipment, including the machine that made the integrated circuit patterns. Information was inputted by punched paper tape. You ever seen punched paper tape?

Hellrigel:

No, I have seen photographs, but not the actual paper tape.

Harris:

It is sort of brown tape about an inch wide. I don’t think I have any pictures of this anywhere.

Hellrigel:

I'll look.

Harris:

Potentially, there are as much as nine holes in every row. Then you put the paper tape on reels, just like you do a magnetic tape, and you feed it in. Clark Hamilton, in particular, had very clever schemes for using that to make repeated patterns. I approached it differently. Let me say that Clark and I are very good friends. If you hear about any spats or something, it's friendly banter.

Hellrigel:

So far, I have not heard about spats.

Harris:

Have you heard of VAX computers from Digital Equipment Corporation?

Hellrigel:

No.

Harris:

They were the sort of time sharing thing.

Hellrigel:

You bought time?

Harris:

No. We actually owned one eventually. The computer was probably about as long as this room was wide, so about from here to the window. I hooked this thing up to this so-called digital pattern generator. It ran on an old, dumb terminal.

I wrote programs so that it would do all this and replace the punched paper tape. It would show on the screen what it was doing so you knew where it was in the pattern. Clark is a guy who really wants to get things done, so he had this scheme with punched paper tape. The first thing I did was I wrote a program that the input was punched paper tape. Then it would draw on the screen pattern.

Clark needled me about spending so much time on all this. Finally, he told me that the very first time he put a punched paper tape on this kind of test program, he found an error. It was really nice of him to tell me because he would say, “Dick, you're spending so much time on this that it will never help us.” He admitted it would be more efficient, but he also said, “We're never going to save back in time anything close to the hours that you have invested in writing all this.” I actually think he was wrong.

We struggled through those low-technology periods. Eventually we got more modern equipment, more modern software, and so on.

Hellrigel:

Did you start to get more equipment and updated technology when you started to get more defense contracts?

Harris:

We certainly needed the defense contracts to get the money to pay the salaries. At the time, NIST put a tax on all the salaries to pay for the equipment, so we kind of had to buy our own equipment. It was kind of a loan. We had big bills. Every employer has overhead and at the time NIST overhead was enough that you multiplied take-home pay by three.

After I was management for a year or so, I encouraged people to figure out what it really cost to do things and to ask for that amount of money. I didn't think we were asking for as much as we needed. If we didn’t get sufficient money, then the work would either not get done the same way or it had to be subsidized by our NIST money. I realized about a year later that a factor of three was wrong because we were heavy on equipment compared to most organizations. The ratio was four for us. Once I figured out it was a factor of four instead of three, we started doing better financially.

Hellrigel:

In each bid for work, NIST charged four times the cost of salary to cover expenses?

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Before you moved into management, did your work at NIST change over time with different projects?

Harris:

I moved up in the management chain. It included all the stuff in superconducting electronics. For example, during some part of that, this is too long a story to tell, it also included the materials and large-scale stuff that Jack Ekin works on. It included projects in magnetics which still continue and stuff being presented at this conference. Mind you, I retired ten years ago.

It's a little funny to get this award after ten years.

Hellrigel:

How were you notified that you were going to get the 2016 IEEE Max Swerdlow Award for Sustained Service to the Applied Superconductivity Community?

Harris:

It was an email. I knew it was going on because my colleagues, the people I'd previously supervised, wrote the nomination. That's the thing that I suggested you might be able to get from Sam Benz.

Hellrigel:

Yes, yes. I will track down this information.

Harris:

Yes, good. Great.

Hellrigel:

During your career at NIST, you had many titles, including division chief, group leader and chief scientist. The title changes must indicate you were moving up the food chain.

Harris:

The group leader to division chief was a move up. The move to chief scientist was taking away my management responsibilities. The title was a euphemism. My boss really did not want me around, which is one reason I retired.

Now, the title of chief scientist was kind of funny because people would look at me and say “chief scientist for all of NIST.” Others didn’t ask, but they clearly thought I was the chief scientist for all of NIST. I had to quickly correct them and say no, just for this one organization in NIST.

Hellrigel:

Then you were made emeritus.

Harris:

Yes, after it was all over.

Hellrigel:

This is an honor because not all retirees are emeritus.

Harris:

Right.

Hellrigel:

It seems similar to the title emeritus awarded by a university to select retiring professors.

Harris:

Right. What does emeritus mean? You have an office, well, I could have an office at the lab. However, this presents a problem for a retired manager because they don’t want you around anymore. The new manager wants to make the decisions. If you're a scientist, you could keep a lab bench. I did have an office for a number of years, but it turned out the main reason I went back to NIST was to go running with my friend at noontime.

Hellrigel:

Did I see on your vitae that at one point you were sent to Switzerland?

Harris:

Yes, for one year. Let me think. When I got the job at NIST, I turned down IBM. IBM’s project to build this Josephson signal processor was mostly in Yorktown Heights, New York, which was the central laboratory. They had another laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland or a suburb of Zurich.

A flirtation continued between me and IBM. First of all, when I went to NIST, the salary was way lower than the one offered by IBM. The low salary was one problem. There were other problems. I told you we didn’t have much equipment at NIST, so we had to build from scratch and that was a bit frustrating.

I did go out and get another job offer at one point from a company called Cray Research.

Remember that there was something called a Cray computer that was the fastest in creation. The Cray Computer Corporation’s research lab was in Boulder. I ended up getting an offer from them, but I turned down. Another big computer manufacturer was Control Data Corporation (CDC). I got an offer from them and turned it down, too. The projects at both companies that I would've headed went away within a year or two, so I was lucky to have stayed at NIST because it was sorely tempting to leave in both cases. After I'd been at NIST about four years, a person from IBM research in Yorktown said well, if you won't come to work for us in Yorktown, how about going to Zurich for a year?

You're smirking as if you know what was on his mind and it would be glamorous enough that one would try it.

Hellrigel:

Well you must have thought, sure I will go, just show me the chalet up the mountain.

Harris:

Yes. I came home and told my wife, but she was furious.

Hellrigel:

Furious?

Harris:

Yes. She wasn't a minister yet, but she was working as the volunteer coordinator at the Unitarian church in Boulder. I was going to totally screw up her career. We'd tell our friends about this and she got no support from anybody, male or female. I felt terrible for her.

Hellrigel:

They may have thought “You're a volunteer. Get out. Go to Switzerland.”

Harris:

How could you turn down a year in Switzerland? Anyway, she finally decided to go.

We went to Switzerland and the church where she worked told her that they would take her back in a year. Somehow she made contact with the Carl Jung Institute, which was across Zurich from IBM, and she worked with a graduate student counselor at the institute. During this time, she thought about what she wanted with the rest of her life. There just wasn’t much future in working as a volunteer coordinator at the church in Boulder. When we were in Switzerland she got this idea that she should go to divinity school, so unknown to her, the decision to go to Switzerland changed her career completely. Well, it didn’t completely change it because she was interested in church and had been a caseworker for the welfare department when we lived in Connecticut. In reality, working with people, and so on was in her mind the whole time

Hellrigel:

Did your daughter get a vote in the decision to go to Switzerland?

Harris:

She was eight-years-old at the time. I’m sure we talked to her about it, but not to the level of it being a vote.

Hellrigel:

I see. I didn't realize she was so young.

Harris:

Yes. We took her with us and enrolled her in a local Swiss school.

Hellrigel:

She learned German, Swiss German?

Harris:

Swiss German. Although she was in the third grade in the U.S., she started in the second grade in Switzerland. She was not behind in Switzerland.

Hellrigel:

The language?

Harris:

No, it didn't have to do with language either. In the Swiss school system, the second grade was the right place for her age whereas in the U.S. her age group was in the third grade. Within a month, her teacher who spoke very little English, said our daughter was doing really well. My daughter informed us that she could pronounce things, but she didn’t know what they meant. We told her teacher what she said, and he told us he didn’t believe her. After three months, she was one of the best students in the class. It worked out well and she came home successfully completing the second grade in Switzerland.

In the first grade in Switzerland they use the local dialect, Switzerdütsch, but in the second grade they started teaching in high German. She came home speaking fluent high German with a very strong Swiss accent. Germans would just break into raucous laughter when they heard her talk. So anyway, we went to Switzerland and our daughter learned German at the local school. I had a good time at IBM research in Switzerland. Actually, Peter Wolf who I worked with at the IBM lab passed away in the last month or two.

Hellrigel:

It sound like everyone in the family had a really good year.

Harris:

It was a really good year. I walked to IBM. It was about a ten minute walk up a pretty steep hill full of cows with Swiss bells on. It was just beautiful. We traveled a bit, but not as much as we should have. I was feeling obliged to NIST. NIST was paying my way actually. And the reason was they didn't want to accept any money from IBM because the government agencies need to be independent of specific companies.

Hellrigel:

In the end, NIST let you go for a year-long sabbatical.

Harris:

Yes, yes. For one year, 1981- 1982, I was a physicist the National Bureau of Standards assigned to IBM Research in Zurich. I developed a time delay circuit for Josephson technology.

Hellrigel:

The Bureau expected you to return?

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Your boss probably hoped you'd come back.

Harris:

I don’t think they were worried, and I went back to NIST. Maybe I overdid things, but I was so concerned about respecting IBM's proprietary information that I didn't transfer a fair amount of what I knew to NIST. I should've probably tried harder to do that. But eventually we started doing all the right things.

Hellrigel:

Did you think you might get sued, if you talked too much about what you did at IBM?

Harris:

I didn’t think about getting sued. I just was trying to think about what was right and what wasn't. In retrospect I probably should've transferred more information and talked more about it.

Hellrigel:

After returning from Zurich, what did you do at NIST?

Harris:

I became the Group Leader for the Cryoelectronic Metrology Group and directed about thirty staff members working on metrology based on superconducting electronics from 1982 to 1993.

Hellrigel:

You also spent some time in Thailand.

Harris:

Yes, in 1990, I went to Thailand for two weeks as a reviewer of superconductivity programs for the Agency for International Development.

The Thais were interested in high temperature superconductivity because it contains yttrium that was apparently abundant in Thailand. I had a wonderful time meeting mostly very creative people whose laboratories were operated with minimal funding. To make high temperature superconductors it was essential to mix together the necessary element and anneal them at fairly high temperatures. One researcher had used a very small oven designed for annealing dental tooth replacements. Amazing.

Hellrigel:

During your career, you moved into management, and you became the Division Chief of the Electromagnetic Technology Division.

Harris:

When I became Division Chief my superconducting electronics group was merged with NIST’s program on superconducting wires and with a newer program on magnetic materials for the disk drive industry. I immensely enjoyed this new area, travelling frequently to meetings of that industry where the technology was deeply embedded in the technology of all computers. Contrary to superconductivity it operated at room temperature and was in widespread practical use. There was however strife in our NIST organization because it did not seem possible for the magnetics efforts to obtain outside funding as the superconducting electronics effort did.

Hellrigel:

Then you spent about one year as the Group Leader for the Quantum Devices Group? Why the change? What did this group work on?

Harris:

After a few years, NIST's higher level management decided to more heavily fund the magnetics efforts and put that effort in a different division. Hence the superconducting electronics effort became its own division. I became Chief Scientist of the Quantum Electrical Metrology Division, the high-sounding title for me was a reflection of my no longer having any management responsibility.

One effort we haven’t mentioned so far is the most successful effort at NIST in superconducting electronics, the voltage standard. That was the essential work that we did in support of NIST’s primary mission. NIST had funded this work as a kind of not-quite-free addendum to the DoD-funded work. NIST disseminated its calibrations of voltage standards through a division at its headquarters in Gaithersburg, MD. At that time the superconducting voltage standards fabricated and engineered into useful metrology tools around the world mostly came from our Boulder, CO, operations. Higher level management determined that the two divisions would be operated as one that spanned the nation. There was a perceived difficulty of increasing the funding of our effort without involving the Gaithersburg effort. In a highly controversial move management merged the two divisions with the leadership being in Gaithersburg. The oversight of the work was given to people who had experienced less technical and financial success than the superconducting electronics effort.

Hellrigel:

While you were working at NIST did you like living in Boulder?

Harris:

Yes. That's what drew us there. Yes.

Hellrigel:

That is the same response I heard from the two persons I interviewed earlier this week. They liked Boulder.

Harris:

Sure.

Hellrigel:

The first time I visited Boulder I got the impression it was pretty different. It was the summer of 1989 and I was walking along in town and then I saw this woman in the creek. In New Jersey, you do not go wading in a brook, especially in a city.

Harris:

You were fearing for her health?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Harris:

From bacteria or whatever?

Hellrigel:

Yes. Where I grew up in New Jersey it was urban and industrial. The Passaic River as well as brooks and streams were filled with toxic water. The water was less toxic in rural western and southern New Jersey. We lived across the street from a park with a brook and Mama said stay out of the brook. We followed her instructions, but other kids mucked around in the brook. It was disgusting.

Harris:

Yes, yes. Unfortunately, Boulder continues to grow. My avocation in Boulder politics has been to try to control the growth. Not long after I moved to Boulder, voters enacted legislation to limit the expansion of housing. The citizens of Boulder limited it to 1 or 2 percent growth. By growth I mean housing growth.

Hellrigel:

If the economy expanded, more people moved to the area.

Harris:

What's happened to the housing market? We have very high-end housing. I'm speaking a little bit loosely.

Hellrigel:

Sure, housing became increasingly expensive because it's limited.

Harris:

Yes. The reason is not completely clear, but housing has become very expensive because people want to live in Boulder. Now, I am getting to the point, yes, Boulder is a nice place to live and that’s the reason it's expensive. Really rich people come and build really big and fancy houses. What's going on now? We didn't limit jobs in Boulder, so 60 percent of the employees in Boulder are from out of town.

Hellrigel:

That means congestion as commuters drive to and from work.

Harris:

We have this one idealistic thing we are trying to do. We're trying to take over the electric utility in Boulder so that we can use more renewable energy than the commercial electric company would. It’s fraught with struggles with the State of Colorado, the company, and so on. This plan is designed to help with climate change by using more renewable energy.

Yes, we've got 60,000 people driving their cars into town every day. I think that produces less greenhouse gasses than the hoped improvement from the electrical utility. But it's inconsistent to be worried about it in one case and not the other.

Hellrigel:

Right. Yes, I noticed you were on the city council for one year.

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Then you ran for council?

Harris:

Let's see. I ran for council and lost in 1985. Later in 1993 I got appointed to fill a vacancy. I intended to run for election. Usually, if you served for a year your name is known and you'd win the election, but that's about the time I got promoted at NIST.

Hellrigel:

Yes, so your responsibility at work took more of your time.

Harris:

During that ten-month period, I was able to read a packet this thick (3 or more inches) and go to a meeting from 6 p.m. to midnight, sometimes longer. I was also able to vote sensibly, but I wasn't able to take enough extra time. My boss insisted that I work at least 8 to 5. He was in Washington and he wasn't sympathetic at all. He was a real old timer albeit one whom I highly respect.

Hellrigel:

He did not have much tolerance for activities outside the lab, so you did not run for the council seat.

Harris:

Yes. His thought was that if you want to work at NIST, by golly that ought to be your life's mission. Anyway, I’ve gotten involved in those civic things as well.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Now that you're retired, are you more active in those activities?

Harris:

Yes, I am more active, but less successful. We've lost control over growth. Have you ever heard of a community saying, "We've got too many jobs?" No. Although we're beginning to see more people saying we've got too many jobs.

Hellrigel:

Maybe you can control the expansion by limiting building permits or certain types of permits?

Harris:

Maybe. That's one tactic you might take, but the present city council isn't likely to do that. The jobs could easily go to outlying communities that are ten to fifteen miles from Boulder. Recently, one of the worst things that happened is we've invited Google into town with 1,500 employees. If you take the standard business approach, this is fantastic. However, the Google site is right where the traffic is the worst and the employees have to get to work and go home at night. They could've gone somewhere else. The other communities hate us because we steal these valuable jobs that could have gone to their city. We'll see how it turns out, but it isn't good right now, in my opinion at least.

Hellrigel

Yes, and the university must be growing, too.

Harris:

Yes, but that’s the state, so it's out of our control.

Hellrigel:

Boulder might be upset because the university does not pay taxes. It is always an issue.

Harris:

Right. The university's got the same problem because their professors can't afford to live in Boulder.

Hellrigel:

Yes, especially the social science and humanities professors.

Harris:

Right, right.

Hellrigel:

It has become a quality of life issue.

Harris:

Yes, yes. Well, I need to say--and this is not to support my argument--but the amount of commuting you do in Boulder to these outlying communities is more like twenty to thirty minutes. It's not horrible. I told you in Los Angeles when I looked at that one job, the commute was an hour to an hour and a half. It's not that bad around Boulder.

Hellrigel:

When I was in grad school at the University of California, Santa Barbara, people asked about New York area traffic. I told them I lived about fifteen miles from New York City. They asked why I used miles. I said it is the most precise measurement because the commute time varies a great deal. Friends in Southern California only talked in terms of how much time the trip will take. [Laughter.]

Harris:

Yes. It was a different language.

Hellrigel:

You're a fellow of the American Physical Society, an organization for physicists. Did you join APS when you were in graduate school?

Harris:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Has APS been important to your career?

Harris:

I worked in this sort of fuzzy, gray boundary between electrical engineering and physics. I am a physicist. Clark Hamilton is really an electric engineer. I'm really a physicist; that's my love. Clark and I are good friends, but he makes things work.

Hellrigel:

Yes. Dr. Hamilton might be a bit more of an engineer?

Harris:

He is. Absolutely. He's just remarkable at that. Our group tries to straddle that barrier and it's one of its strengths. There are lots of groups around that just do basic physics. We don't. We try to do basic physics and we also try to make practical devices. Clark's been more successful at that than anybody else in our group.

Hellrigel:

The other day I talked to a mechanical engineer and some people who earned undergraduate degrees in physics and graduate degrees in electrical engineering, so superconductivity attracts physicists and engineers. There seems to be a real synergy between physicists and engineers. How long have you been involved with the superconductivity group?

Harris:

The conference?

Hellrigel:

In the lab you worked with a superconductivity group and then you have attended the Applied Superconductivity Conference.

Harris:

First of all, it was just a conference where papers were presented that I needed to hear for my work. It's in my resume, but somewhere in there I got elected to the board of the conference. I was not a great member of the board because I concentrated on keeping things going right back at the group in Boulder. However, I got acquainted with the conference and helped start some others as well. The ones that I got involved in starting tended to be smaller and more focused on the electronics area. I remember going to an Applied Superconductivity Conference and walking in the door of the conference center or hotel with John Rowell. Does that name ring any bells?

Hellrigel:

Yes, I am trying to set up an interview with him.

Harris:

Well, he's here.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Harris:

If you could get him too, he is more insightful than the next twenty people you'll find at this conference.

Hellrigel:

I found photographs of all ten people I intend to interview, so I have been looking through the crowds.

Harris:

Yes, and you can use my name. We're good friends. He is an important person to interview.

Hellrigel:

Yes. I will have to check my notes to determine if Silver was interviewed two years ago.

Harris:

You were going to go to the mountains on Friday maybe.

Hellrigel:

No, no, no. In case something came up at the conference, I didn't schedule anything for Friday. I have to check out of the hotel on Friday, so if I schedule another oral history interview I will stay with friends. I am visiting friends in the Denver area for a few days, so I'm not going anywhere.

Harris:

I'm going to a dinner that's being organized by a former student of John Clarke. Have you ever run into him?

Hellrigel:

He's my last interview on Friday.

Harris:

Oh, good. Yes, so tonight at dinner I am likely to see both Arnie Silver and John Rowell. Have you got business cards with you? Yes, and let me take two. I'll tell them both what a good time I had talking with you and that you wish to speak with them.

Hellrigel:

Yes. I'm going to put my cell phone number on the cards.

Harris:

Good. That's the one that'll work here. Yes. I do forget to do things sometimes, but I will try real hard to remember this. Besides, I want to talk to both of them tonight anyway.

Hellrigel:

I cannot thank you enough. This is so very helpful. It is useful to make the contact. If they are busy, I will speak with them another time.

Harris:

Both of them are at least five years older than I am. This will work.

Hellrigel:

Late on Friday I am off to Evergreen to see an old rugby mate and her family.

Harris:

My goodness. Oh wow.

Hellrigel:

I will catch her on Friday night because she is a lawyer and is busy in court.

Harris:

You're living where right now?

Hellrigel:

I live in northeast New Jersey.

Harris:

John lives in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.

Hellrigel:

Oh, that is not far from where I live.

Harris:

You could drop in at his house and chat with him some time.

Hellrigel:

Yes, yes. Berkeley Heights is just a bit south and west from my town.

Harris:

Yes, yes. Yes.

Memberships

Hellrigel:

We are approaching our last topic of the day, IEEE. When did you join?

Harris:

The answer is I don't know, but it was some time not too long after I got to NIST. I decided I needed to be part of IEEE.

Hellrigel:

Currently, you are a Life Member of IEEE.

Harris:

Yes, that's just because I got old. I’m a Senior Member, but I'm not a Fellow. You get to be a senior member and a Life Member pretty much by living long enough or being a member long enough.

Hellrigel:

Perhaps it is time for you to become a Fellow. You have to be nominated.

Harris:

Yes. I have written successful nominations for my staff in the past. I am getting one of the IEEE Applied Superconductivity awards, so who knows what the future holds.


Awards

Hellrigel:

The award you will receive at this conference has a very long name. It is the 2016 IEEE Max Swerdlow Award for Sustained Service to the Applied Superconductivity Community.

Harris:

If somebody came to me with an announcement on a silver platter stating you're a Fellow, I wouldn't tell them to go away. However, becoming a Fellow just isn’t too important to me. This award is really important to me.

Hellrigel:

Why?

Harris:

This award is important because I am being recognized by my peers.

Hellrigel:

When you look back over your career, are you content? Do you feel that you reached your goals and achieved what you wanted to do? Maybe I am not using the correct words.

Harris:

No, you certainly do. Another way of saying that question is what more would I have liked to achieve.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Harris:

Actually, I think I'm pretty content.

The group at NIST became one of the most creative and productive in superconducting electronics. Now that I am retired its success continues. First the leader was David Rudman. More recently it has gone on under Sam Benz and Joel Ullom. Most of the work is oriented toward metrology where superconducting electronics has extraordinary natural strengths. I’m actually proud of what the group has accomplished. I sometimes humor myself with the thought that I may have contributed to that in some small way.

Ironically one measure of the success is our loss of two outstanding physicists who both spend around ten years with us, beginning soon after their Ph.D.s. John Martinis went to the University of California at Santa Barbara and Kent Irwin went to Stanford. Both immediately became full professors. I am proud of them.

It is crucial to note that none of us ever do everything on our own. In my whole career I’ve rarely hesitated to ask people’s advice. Always I would get a friendly help response. I’m sure I will forget several who were very important to me, but here are the important ones I think of now in rough chronological order. Ron Parks (Rochester), Dillon Mapother (Illinois), John Wheatley (Illinois), Bob Schrieffer (Pennsylvania, of the BCS theory), Sydney Shapiro (Rochester), Ted Van Duzer (Berkeley), Mike Tinkham (Harvard), Don McDonald (NIST Boulder), Paul Richards (Berkeley), John Clarke (Berkeley), Peter Wolf (IBM Zurich), Hans Zappe (IBM Yorktown Heights).

Hellrigel:

Yes, you seem to be in a great position.

Harris:

Yes. I get this government retirement and we have some savings. Before I retired people told me I would have enough money, and we do.

Hellrigel:

What do you do now?

Harris:

I'm in politics and we travel.

Hellrigel:

You can afford to be independent. You are not a career politician.

Harris:

Yes, yes. I'm also on the board of the City of Boulder's Housing Authority, which is called Boulder Housing Partners. It's technically a housing authority just like 3,400 other organizations in the United States. We try to build and maintain affordable housing. It goes well below 60 percent of area median income. Previously, I was in a private nonprofit that did affordable housing called Thistle Communities.

Final Thoughts

Hellrigel:

Yes, housing in Boulder is quite expensive. There is a high demand because people are drawn to Boulder by the university, employment, skiing, and retirement. The people with low salaries, those with low paying service jobs, probably cannot afford to live in Boulder. Where do they live?

Harris:

They live a long way out in surrounding communities.

Interestingly, once I chatted with an internist that I go to occasionally who's now retired. Doctors are supposed to make lots of money. The doctor said they did a calculation based on what they would pay a young internist who had a certain percentage of Medicare patients, which limits the income. It is so bad, a new physician in that circumstance couldn't afford to buy a house in Boulder. I'm going to forget quite all the modifying terms, but the average cost of a single-family house has now crossed a million dollars. It's kind of like San Jose, California.

Hellrigel:

Oh no, Silicon Valley prices. It’s obscene.

Harris:

Yes, that's the right word.

Hellrigel:

Obscene is one of my favorite words to describe something that is ridiculous or astronomical, or just way over the top. I also like the word silly.

Harris:

You can live in a condo for $300,000 to $400,000. Don't ask me how big they are. I just don’t know.

Hellrigel:

Perhaps they are either three or four rooms. Well, you moved to Boulder at a good time, and if you want to sell, you should come out ahead. If you are going to stay in Boulder, you will not escape the high real estate market.

Harris:

Yes, yes. We bought our house for $130,000. Have you seen the website called Zillow?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Harris:

It says our house is worth a little more $1.5 million now.

Hellrigel:

Wow. Do you plan to move?

Harris:

We expect to be forced to move to a retirement home at some point when we start to get feeble.

Hellrigel:

Last questions and then I'll let you leave for dinner. Is your daughter an engineer?

Harris:

She's a doctor.

Hellrigel:

I see, a medical doctor. In Boulder?

Harris:

Well, it's a long story. She has an M.D., but she also has a master's degree in Chinese medicine.

Hellrigel:

I have asked the people I interview if their children were either in the fields of engineering or physics. So far, I do not recall anybody having a child enter either field. By the time I complete all ten interviews, I am sure I will find one or two.

Harris:

My goodness. What does Clark Hamilton's son do? I don't think I remember.

Hellrigel:

I spoke with Dr. Hamilton a few days ago, so I will check my notes.

Hellrigel:

Do you think there is something we did not cover, sir?

Harris:

Probably, but our discussion was pretty thorough.

Hellrigel:

This is the story of you and your career, but it is not intended to be a comprehensive autobiography. If you want to share more information about your career, please write what we call a First-Hand History. When I send the transcript, I will provide the pertinent links to the IEEE History Center’s Oral Histories and First-Hand Histories.

Thank you.