Oral-History:Wes Anderson

About Wes Anderson

Anderson was born in Kingsburg California March 28, 1928, the son of Arthur and Hilma Anderson.  He attended grammar school and high school in Kingsburg.  At an early age, he showed a great interest in electricity and things electrical. In high school, he became interested in Ham Radio, and with the help of his uncle, Milton Brandvig, obtained a Radio Amateurs License with the call sign W6API. Short wave radio antennas were an area of great interest to him. Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled for two years at Reedley Junior College, now Reedley College, majoring in physics.  For his last two years of college, he attended Stanford University obtaining a BS in 1950.

Anderson started graduate school at Stanford in the 1950.  In the spring of 1952 he married Jeannette Arndt and during that summer he worked at Varian in San Carlos, shimming magnets, among other things.  Back at Stanford in 1953, he joined Professor Bloch's group working with Jim Arnold building a new NMR system to study chemical molecules.  The system had better resolution and magnetic field s ability than past systems. Arnold built the magnet and Anderson constructed the electronics and control system.  In the spring of 1954, Anderson complete his doctorate, and Professor Bloch asked Weston and Jim to accompany him to CERN and continue magnetic resonance experiments there.  After one year, Block returned to Stanford University.  Anderson accepted a job at Varian Associates where he had worked during the summer of 1952.  His initial projects at Varian included working on magnetometers and on NMR spectrometers.  In 1963, he was made manager of the R&D group of the Instrument Division of Varian.  In 1964, he invented a practical method of increasing the sensitivity of a magnetic resonance system by a factor of 100 or more. He explained the invention to one of the members of his department, Richard Ernst, and asked h1m to assemble the required apparatus and test the idea.  Ernst did this and proved that the system worked as described, and did an experiment that demonstrated the improvement. Anderson and Ernst wrote a technical paper that described the system and received a patent for the idea. Later Ernst applied the idea to the then new technology of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and proving a sensitivity increase that made the system practical for human imaging.  For his contributions and foresight Ernst received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1991.

In 1972, Anderson was appointed director of the Systems and Techniques Lab, a part of the corporate research laboratories of Varian. As director of the lab, he became heavily involved with ultrasonic imaging and with other activities that including x-rays and vacuum microelectronics. In November 1987, he was given the title of Principal and in 1988 he was made a Varian Fellow. In the early 90's he again became involved with NMR and in particular with the development of low temperature RF probe coils using high temperature superconducting (HTS) materials and cooled normal metals.

In 1999 Varian Associates was split into three separate companies, and the corporate laboratories were closed. At that time Anderson took retirement.  However before his retirement actually started, one of the companies, Varian Inc. which was formerly the instrument business of Varian Associates asked Anderson to consult for them. In the following years Anderson consulted and helped primarily in the magnetic resonance technology including the design of coils for the magnetic resonance imaging of small animals, of great interest to pharmaceutical companies for drug testing.  In the 2000's, Anderson was consulting with the patent department, writing patents and answering technical questions.  In 2009, Varian Inc. was acquired by Agilent Technologies, and Anderson was given an office at the Agilent headquarters in Santa Clara so he could be close to the former Varian patent people who were transferred there.  In October 2010 Agilent terminated all of the former patent people and Anderson retired from consulting. After retirement, Anderson intensified his work on pre-university STEM education.

Anderson has 63 U.S. and many foreign patents, and has authored many technical papers. He is a Senior Member of IEEE.

About the Interview

WES ANDERSON: An Interview Conducted by Michael Geselowitz for the IEEE History Center, 4 August 2020

Interview # 846 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.

Wes Anderson, an oral history conducted in 2020 by Michael Geselowitz, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA. 

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Wes Anderson

INTERVIEWER: Michael Geselowitz

DATE: 4 August 2020

PLACE: Zoom

Early life and education, Stanford

Geselowitz:

This is Mike Geselowitz from the IEEE History Center. And I'm on a virtual call with Weston Anderson out in California to conduct an oral history interview. The date is Tuesday, August 4th, 2020. So, Wes, I was wondering if you could start by telling me about your early life and particularly your education and how you got interested in technology.

Anderson:

Well, I got interested in technology very early in my life. My mother says that when I was just a crawler, I used to like to look at plugs, lights and cords and things like that. And then as I grew up and got into grammar school, I was building circuits using batteries. We had rural telephones in those days that used large dry cells. The local telephone repairman gave me used half-charged cells. With them I would hook up circuits with buttons, bells, lights and things like that. My uncle was a radio ham, and he stimulated my interest too. The local music store gave me old radios, and I used to take them apart. I read about electronics and built simple circuits with the parts. When I was in high school, I got a radio amateur license. I also got a commercial radio license which allows you to run a radio station, but I never used it and it has expired. I have kept my radio amateur license up to date. My call letters are W6API.

Geselowitz:

Now let me just interrupt for one second. Where did you go to high school?

Anderson:

I was living in Kingsburg, California, which is about 20 miles south of Fresno. And it was just the local high school, Kingsburg High School.

Geselowitz:

Did they have an opportunity for you to do electronics there in high school?

Anderson:

Not too much in high school, but I had electronics at home that I was fiddling with. I had all these parts, and I had read books about electronics. And my uncle stimulated my interest further; he knew electronics very well. My home projects included simple things like crystal radios and small radios using tubes. In those days’ radios used tubes. My main interest there was not chatting with other hams, but obtaining signal reports. I was never a talkative person. I guess I'm still not. But the main interest was the electronics and the fact that I would build beam antennas that were on rotors and I could check their radiation patterns. Signal reports from other hams was more important than just chatting. After high school, I attended Reedley Junior College for my first two years. I then went to Stanford. I was encouraged to go to Stanford by Mr. Ewan, my high school science teacher. He had gone to Stanford, and he thought that Stanford would be the perfect university for me. He was right, I loved the university. I liked the professors and the courses. I graduated with my BS degree with distinction in two years in 1950. After getting my BS degree I stayed on to get advanced degrees.

Geselowitz:

And those degrees were in physics, correct, rather than engineering.

Anderson:

Yes, my bachelor’s degree and my advanced degrees were in physics, with minors in electrical engineering and mathematics.

Working with Felix Bloch, CERN employment

Geselowitz:

And who did you work with at Stanford?

Anderson:

I received a master’s degree at the end of my first year of graduate work. I selected Professor Felix Bloch as my Ph.D. thesis advisor. But I should say that after the first year, I worked at Westinghouse Research Labs for the summer quarter. I worked on measuring lifetimes of the optical lines of Mercury. And then after my second year, I worked at Varian Associates in San Carlos during the summer break. That work got me involved in measuring and plotting magnetic fields of magnets using NMR. When I returned to Stanford, I got together with Felix Bloch, who had won the Nobel Prize for his invention of nuclear magnetic resonance. I worked with one of his other students, Jim Arnold. Our project was to build an NMR system, record the proton spectra of some molecules and relate the data to their molecular structure.

Geselowitz:

Okay. And what happened next?

Anderson:

Well in the fourth year of our graduate work, Bloch announced that he had accepted a job at CERN, European Center for Nuclear Research. It was located in Geneva Switzerland at that time. He asked that Jim Arnold and I finish up our thesis before he left for Geneva. At that time, our spectrometer was completed and we were taking and analyzing spectra of several molecules. I quickly wrote up my thesis work, turned it in, and had it accepted in a couple of weeks. I have always said that it really pays to have a motivated professor. After our work was accepted, Professor Bloch asked us if we would go with him to Switzerland and continue work on NMR. And that of course was an opportunity we couldn't turn down. So, Jim and I went to Switzerland, and set up a NMR lab in the basement of the University of Geneva, where CERN was located at that time.

Geselowitz:

Now if I can interrupt again for just one moment: were you married already at this time?

Anderson:

Yes, but let me digress a bit. During my first year of graduate school, I was living at Stanford Village in Menlo Park where SRI is currently located. There was a stand out in front of the driveway at the street for students without cars. A student driving to Stanford would pick up waiting students and drive them to Stanford. I didn’t have a car, so the morning of the first day of graduate school, I stood there, and this girl picked me up, and took me to Stanford. Her name was Jeannette Arndt. About six months later, I asked her for a date. And she says I had to finish all the other women before I got down to her. Well anyway, we got married in June 1952. And that was just at start of the summer break at Stanford.

Geselowitz:

So, was she a student at Stanford also?

Anderson:

Oh yes, she was an education major, and she was taking a graduate course in education.

Geselowitz:

Then how'd she feel about moving to Switzerland?

Anderson:

Oh, she loved it. We both enjoyed it. And actually, our first child, Joel, was born in Switzerland in July 1955. The fact that he was born in Switzerland caused him some trouble later on when he had a job that required government clearance, although you don’t become a Swiss citizen by just being born there.

Geselowitz:

Okay. And how long did you stay at CERN?

Anderson:

Originally, we were planning to stay two years, as Bloch's term was for two years. But the end of the first year, Bloch said that he had enough of this administration and he was going to go back to Stanford. So, we had to look for a job, and I considered three possibilities. One was from Professor Abragam at the French Atomic Energy Commission, Saclay. Professor Abragam often visited us at CERN, as he was interested in NMR. And he took us sightseeing and to several concerts. He had a Citroen automobile and explained that you either had your foot hard on the accelerator or hard on the brake. And when you start the car jacks itself up, and when you stop it lets itself back down It was very interesting. Anyway, where was I?

Geselowitz:

That was one possibility for a job. You said there were two more.

Anderson:

The second possibility was at Westinghouse. They offered me a job at their lab in Pittsburgh. And the third possibility was at Varian Associates in San Carlos. I took the job at Varian. I had to get back to the States. And I knew the company, and I liked California. And so that wasn't a very difficult decision. My first project at Varian was working on magnetometers. They were used for ASW, anti-submarine warfare, as well as commercial prospecting applications.

Geselowitz:

And so--go ahead.

Nuclear magnetic resonance, Varian Associates

Anderson:

Then later I got involved in magnetic resonance for chemical analysis. Russ Varian, one of the founders, was very interested in developing magnetic resonance for chemical analysis. He suggested that Bloch apply for a patent on NMR. Russ Varian would like to take a license when he formed his future company. Bloch wasn't interested in applying for a patent. He didn't think there would be any interest except by a few physicists who would be interested in measuring nuclear magnetic moments or measuring magnetic fields. But Russ Varian prevailed, helped write the patent and obtained a license for his then future company, Varian Associates.

Geselowitz:

And then what was your role in further developing the NMR systems?

Anderson:

I got involved in trying to make the systems suitable for chemical analysis. We needed more sensitivity, higher resolution, and greater stability. We knew what was needed, and we had these things to work on. On the resolution side, I developed electric current shims, which were similar to those we developed when I was a graduate student. Jim Arnold and I made circular concentric loops of wire that we put on the pole faces of the permanent magnet. The shims had several taps with current controls to control the radial drop off of the magnetic field. The adjustments were not independent making the adjustment process tedious. I developed shims that produced magnetic field components orthogonal to each other, corresponding to the terms of spherical harmonics and that certainly helped. That made the control of the shims independent of each other. There are a number of ways to improve the sensitivity. Increasing the coupling of the sample to the receiver coil. We worked on techniques to, or systems that improved the sensitivity that way. We went to higher magnetic fields as high field magnets became available. And I worked on various other techniques to increase the sensitivity. The most important one was the use of Fourier transform. Russ Varian had proposed and patented an NMR system using a Fourier transform. His idea was to radiate the sample with broad band noise and record the response after detection on magnetic tape of a tape recorder. A longer recording time leads to greater sensitivity. Then he pasted the end of the tape to the beginning of the tape, and ran it through the tape player. The output of the tape player is coupled a narrow band filter to obtain one frequency component of the spectrum. The speed of the tape player was changed by just enough to produce an adjacent output frequency. Each time the tape through at a different speed to obtain another point of the spectrum. But that was so clumsy and took so long that no one even tried it. My idea was to stimulate all the lines of a spectrum by modulating the transmitter frequency by a series of short pulses The NMR response is heterodyned to lower frequencies and stored in a digital time averaging device. The signals after each pulse are added to the corresponding signals of the previous pulse. After sufficient data is taken a computer is used to take the Fourier Transform. Since the data for a complete Fourier transform is obtained after each pulse, the signal to noise is increased by the square root of the number of pulses. At my request, Richard Ernst assembled a system and demonstrated the sensitivity advantages of the system.

Geselowitz:

And what computers, what kind of computers were you using back in the day?

Anderson:

Varian was using a large IBM computer for accounting and payroll, and we used it for our first Fourier transform experiment. Shortly thereafter we were using minicomputers. I don’t remember the brand, but it was similar to the TRS 80 that I was using at home. A short time later Varian acquired a small minicomputer business. It didn't stay in the business very long. But then Varian incorporated Fourier transform capability into the next generation NMR spectrometers.

Geselowitz:

Okay, so I know that Richard Ernst left Varian at some point and went back to Switzerland.

Anderson:

That’s right. But anyway, he was the one that built the first Fourier transform NMR system. I had the idea; I wrote it down in my notebook and he counter-signed it. And I asked him to test it out, and he did and it worked. We wrote a paper and applied for a patent. And then later, after he returned to Switzerland, he applied the Fourier Transform technique to MRI. This made MRI sensitive enough to be practical for imaging human beings. For these contributions, Ernst received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1991. My wife and I got free trips to Sweden. We enjoyed the ceremonies and other Nobel activities. I made a video of some of the activities. And that event was a real thrill.

Geselowitz:

Wow. So, after he left and you stayed at Varian, what projects were you mainly working on?

Systems and Techniques lab

Anderson:

In 1972, I was actually asked to leave Varian by Peter Llewellyn, who was my supervisor, and I couldn't understand why, and he never explained it to me. So, I interviewed at Hewlett Packard, and I interviewed at Bruker. Bruker flew me to Germany for their interview. But then Joe Feinstein, the head of research for Varian, asked that I stay and head a new activity that they were starting, a systems lab, Systems and Techniques they called it. And I got involved in that as director of the lab. The first project that we worked on was to design and build an ultrasound-imaging instrument for real time cardiac imaging. And that was a very interesting project. I had a group of about 5 engineers with technician and marketing support. After checking the literature and getting market input, a phased array approach was chosen. We assembled an imaging system using a 16-element transducer and a cathode ray tube display. When we had a working model, we demonstrated it to cardiologists at Stanford and UC Berkley. They really liked it and requested that we provide each of them with a unit for further evaluation. The Radiation Division started an activity in Salt Lake City to go into production. I liked to put the transducer on my chest and watch my heart beat. It was very interesting. As part of the marketing effort, our marketing person, a Stanford cardiologist, and I went to Tokyo, Japan and gave some talks at one of their major hospitals. Advanced notice was sent to local cardiologists, but local engineers also attended the talks, and they asked a number of questions about construction and operation of the instrument.

Geselowitz:

And how long did you direct the Systems and Techniques Lab for?

Anderson:

Oh, I'm not sure just how long, but I got involved in other things too, like x-ray tubes. In fact, I have a number of inventions in x-ray tubes, trying to get more power out of them. And we had several other projects also.

Geselowitz:

Now how large was the lab? Because it sounds like even though you were the director, you were still able to be involved technically. You were able to work with the technical groups and not have to just be a manager type.

Anderson:

It was small. It was maybe eight people.

Geselowitz:

Oh, okay.

Anderson:

So, I was heavily involved. I got several patents in ultrasound imaging apparatus.

Geselowitz:

Now do you remember when you and Ernst published the seminal technical paper, when was that published? Do you remember?

Anderson:

Well yes, we had a problem with that. And I'm not sure I remember all of the details. But anyway, we sent it to a journal; I think it was “The Journal of Chemical Physics”. But they rejected it, and then we sent it to the “Review of Scientific Instruments” and they accepted the paper and published it in 1966. This was before my involvement in ultrasound.

Involvement with IEEE

Geselowitz:

I’m curious because I'm going to, before we end this, ask you about your involvement in IEEE, right. So, this is an IEEE oral history interview. And you have many awards and honors with many societies. But, you know, you're also a Senior Life Member of IEEE. So, I was going to ask you, I will ask you before we end this about your involvements with IEEE. And I was curious if maybe if it was an IEEE paper or not.

Anderson:

It was not an IEEE paper, although I'm a member and supporter of IEEE. I joined Varian Associates in 1955 and the company received publications from the IRE, a predecessor of the IEEE.

Geselowitz:

Okay. So you ran the lab, and then at some point you were given higher titles of Principal and Fellow for your work.

Anderson:

Right. I became principal Scientist in 1987 and Fellow in 1988. I was working on a new project to further increase NMR sensitivity by using cooled NMR receiver coils made of high temperature superconducting material. I was working with Conductus, the company that supplied the material.

Retirement

Geselowitz:

So, when did you retire from Varian?

Anderson:

Well, I officially retired in 1999 when the company split into three companies. And the lab that I was in, the Systems and Techniques lab, was closed. However, before retirement took effect, the instrument group which had the NMR activity asked me to consult for them. I consulted for them until, well, until they sold the business in, 2010 I believe. The NMR business then was sold to Agilent, which is a spinoff from HP, and then in 2014 Agilent dropped the NMR completely. In the meantime, I was working mostly with patents, because they had laid off the patent people in 2012. And that was the end of my consulting with Agilent. About 1990, while still in the Systems and Techniques lab, I got back into NMR products. One of the main important activities was the development of high temperature superconductors for receiver coils. I worked with Rich Withers on developing receiver coils using high temperature superconductor materials from Conductus. These of course have fantastic Q’s and greatly improve the sensitivity.

Geselowitz:

So getting back to my question a moment ago, do you remember how or when you first got involved in IEEE or joined IEEE? Was it through a conference, a paper, some journals you wanted to have access to?

Anderson:

Well, we had access to the journals. And I did use them in the library at Varian, who subscribed to the journals. I’m having trouble remembering.

Pre-university education

Geselowitz:

Okay. So we've really covered all the, all the high points, which is, I appreciate. So since you're tired, let me just close with one more big question… what are you doing since retirement? And, specifically, I know you're very interested in pre-university education.

Anderson:

Right.

Geselowitz:

What is called STEM education. IEEE is very interested in that. In fact, at the History Center, we have a pre-university program. So just for a minute or two, and then I'll let you go, if you could, tell me a little bit about the educational stuff you've been doing in retirement.

Anderson:

Yeah, that's been very interesting. I'm a member of MOAH, the Museum of the American Heritage, in Palo Alto. First, they've had classes for kids that typically meet three or four consecutive Saturdays for three hours. They also had classes during the summer that met several days in a row during the vacation period, and I have taught some of these classes. Each class has an associated project that the student builds and keeps when finished. In the first hour or so the student learns any necessary skills for his/her project. In the second and third hours of each session the student assembles his/her project. Each student has a project. And the projects have included building a crystal radio, a Theremin, building a one-tube radio, building what I call a treasure finder, which is very exciting.

Geselowitz:

It's all the things that were your hobby when you were a kid!

Anderson:

Yeah.

Geselowitz:

And the kids like it?

Anderson:

Oh, they love it. The idea of the class is, the first hour or so, you go into the electronics and the theory of what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. And then the next couple of hours, they'll do building. They build the apparatus and then test it out, try it out. For example, in the treasure finder, which is really a metal detector, they built that, and then we went over to the park where we planted some washers instead of coins. And let them find the washers in the grass, and they're very excited about that, using these treasure finders that they'd just built. And they're often used on the beach. For example, every once in a while, I see somebody here at Grover Beach, where I am right now, using one to hunt for something, such as coins, rings or something they lost. Anyway, that activity I think was very interesting, and the kids were quite interested in it. But the last couple of years, the interest seems to have dropped off. And it seems as though the kids are more involved in their cellphones. And I think that's a shame because they're not learning electronics or anything like that from the cellphone.

Geselowitz:

Right. Well what they're learning, depending on how they're using it, they may be just playing games. But even the ones who are doing something with it are, they're learning software. But no one learns the hardware anymore. Who's going to be the next generation of hardware, everything is simulations and coding. And who is going to actually take apart the cellphone and figure how to make it work?

Anderson:

Yeah, they're not doing that. They're not even doing very much coding on cellphones. They're mostly talking to friends and things of that nature.

Geselowitz:

Texting, yeah. Okay. Well Wes, this has been a fascinating, fascinating interview, so I just want to give you, we always give the person one chance at the end, just to say if there's anything you wanted to add that I forgot to ask. This is your chance.

Anderson:

Oh well…

Geselowitz:

Otherwise when I send you the transcript, you can add it in writing. But this is a chance for you to verbalize any thoughts.

Anderson:

I’ll add anything later in the editing process, because I don't feel up to it right now.

Geselowitz:

Okay. Well…

Anderson:

I'm sorry I've been in such a daze. It’s not typical of me.

Geselowitz:

Don't apologize. It was a very good interview, and I got a lot of great information. You'll see when I send you a transcript. And it was really enjoyable for me. So you now, it's still early for you, so you get some rest. You're in the afternoon, and I'm in the evening. So you get some rest and feel better, and I'll be in touch in a couple of days, by email.

Anderson:

Okay, fine.

Geselowitz:

How does that sound?

Anderson:

Fine, I'll be glad to edit.

Geselowitz:

Okay, all right. So you take care of yourself, and I will talk to you soon. I'm going to end the call now.

Anderson:

Okay, thank you.

Geselowitz:

All right, thank you very much again. Have a good afternoon and good evening, and stay safe in the current situation.

Anderson:

Bye-bye.

Geselowitz:

Bye-bye.