The University of Saskatchewan

Discussion - 1

GS I think we'll then go into the next session, which is to discuss the University of Saskatchewan. Now you have an enormous amount of material, and Don gave you some very complex questions. I think these kind of, to me, boil down to: would you like to tell us about some key events, or key decisions, or key persons that led to something of consequence, which means, I think, we can still see evidence of it today. Or, maybe, one of these which inhibited or prevented something of consequence, which we might have had today but do not. These could be personal or more institutional, and as I always tell my graduate students preparing for an oral exam, if you don't like the question, answer a different question. So the Saskatchewan people are Peter Forsyth, Al McNamara, Don Moorcroft, Alister Vallance Jones, and myself.

Peter Forsyth [see also the written material which Peter Forsyth has supplied.]

GS  Peter, would you like to start by setting the record straight. We hear all about what happened, but if you can tell us more about what the really key points were pushed you or the institution one way or another.
PF  Well, I think it's all been told before, quite frankly.
GS  Can you go down to a deeper level, or is there another level to think about.
PF  Peter Forsyth speakingGoing back to the International Polar Year of 1932-33 is absolutely the beginning as far as I am concerned. (See also the University of Saskatchewan's Balfour W. Currie - The Second International Polar Year web site.) You can go back a hundred years before that if you want to, but it was basically that period that got Saskatchewan involved in upper atmospheric research, because Balfour Currie - and of course it was the depression that caused all this - Balfour Currie had to take .. all single professors at the University of Saskatchewan had to take a year or two years of unpaid leave in order to let the university balance its budget. And so Balfour Currie and Frank Davies were together up at Chesterfield Inlet. Frank Davies was really the boss of the place. I gather that meant that he could stay at the main station, while Balfour Currie had to make his way to the remote station over ice and snow - the remote station was just a pile of snow. The two of them took parallax photographs of the aurora. The technique was wonderful; now you've all heard this before, but I find it fascinating. They had one transmitter and one receiver, a radio transmitter and radio receiver, so that meant they could only have one-way conversations or one-way transmission. So Frank Davies would say "I see something in Orion" or Plieades, or whatever, and said I am going to open my camera NOW, and he hoped that at the other end Balfour Currie was listening to this, and could identify the constellation, and could open his camera NOW. He would then say I am closing my shutter NOW, and they would close the shutters. And this would go on all night, with Frank Davies never knowing whether anything was happening at the other end or not, or whether Balfour was even alive. Anyway, they got dozens, hundreds of pictures, and they carried these things all back, they were all glass plates, and that formed the basis for a great amount of work that went on at Saskatchewan with graduate students and others. Even I got involved at one time trying to devise a mechanical means of doing this job a little more easily, but it was not very successful. That started it, and really it went on from there. I would like to say a little more sometime later on about the influence of Nat Gerson and others of similar ilk, but one of the things I would like to comment on is that our generation was quite different from the generation of scientists that are around right now, I think in several ways. In one way, we certainly had a lot more freedom of action than most young scientists do now. The other thing is that we had a great deal of respect for our elders. We really did, we really did bow down before the great men. And the third thing is that of course, we had elders that deserved that respect. [laughter, several comments]. Certainly, when Petrie came it was a big boost to the University of Saskatchewan. He had been at Manitoba for a year. I don't really know what persuaded him to come to Saskatchewan, but it was just aggressive recruiting, I guess, and it was just at the time that we lost Herzberg.
GS  You are getting us into some really interesting areas, Herzberg included, but let me ask you just one question about Currie, because Currie would be worth a whole day.
PF  Oh , absolutely.
GS  - a very complex character. The thing I want to say is that someone should pinpoint this meeting in Ottawa in the spring of 1948 when Gerson came and had NRC and Currie and DRB representatives, and they agreed how to divide the radars, and that they would support the optical work.
PF  Well, I'm not actually clear on those people and place myself. I do know that we had done this study with the 3000 MHz radar before that meeting. Why did we do it? Because someone in Ottawa had been talking to Balfour Currie, and apparently Balfour said "I'll go and try to recruit someone to do this, and if I do can I have a radar?", and whoever it was he was talking to said "yes". I don't think that Nat was involved in that at all, but McKinley probably was.
GS  McKinley was there, I think. I'm depending a bit on Gerson's story . .
PF  It was a Canadian surplus radar, it wasn't anything to do with the American radar at that time. We went through that whole summer and winter fiddling around with this 3000 [MHz radar] and that was the time that I was also supporting myself by lecturing to second year physics and engineering students on, of all things, electromagnetic theory. But it was the following spring that that meeting in Ottawa occurred.
GS  Do you know if that's 48 or 49?
PF  I'm trying to work that out . . but it must have been 48, yes, it must have been 48. So it must have been 47 when we got that first radar and worked through the winter of 47 into 48.
GS  OK. Because the way I understand the story, Currie came back from this meeting in 48 completely enthused about auroral radar, but when you read Gerson's article, he goes to the trouble of saying that Currie seemed reluctant to agree, and then he goes on and said he got the distinct impression, and this a quote, "the distinct impression that both Currie and Petrie were overwhelmed by the prospects." I just wonder if maybe he didn't understand Currie. Currie doesn't ...
PF  I knew Petrie very well at that time, and I watched this thing develop with Petrie. I wasn't as close to Balfour Currie at the time by any means, but, to my mind - and Petrie's still around; we could ask him about this - my recollection is that Petrie just said hey, here's a guy wants to give me money, I can sure use it, and that's about it. I don't think he was reluctant at all. The only thing that Balfour Currie was reluctant about was getting into too big a project, and when he discovered how big those radars were that we were importing, he was really upset. But then DRB eventually came through and paid for them.
GS  Yes, Currie was a very cautious and careful person. Maybe we'll go to Al and - do you want to fill in something more on the radar side of this?

Al McNamara

AM  Al McNamara speakingPeter probably knows more about the beginnings of it. I might add one thing on the early beginnings. Don McKinley was a very interesting fellow, very retiring, and didn't talk a lot about his past experience, but I believe he got his early experience in wartime radar, too. I think he served mainly in the Pacific Ocean campaigns with radars, but he never spoke greatly of it. Of course he got into the radar side of things with meteors in collaboration with Peter Millman. He mentioned at the time that he thought they had seen aurora on the meteor displays at the time, so he certainly had a background interest in it right then. Of course, getting the second 270 set to modify for Peter from 106 down to 56 MHz sort of really got them interested in that area.
PF  Can I just add one quick comment to that. When we got the first 106 MHz - megacycle! radar, when we first got it working, the very first morning after we had these big echoes, Balfour wrote to Don McKinley something like "Oh, I must tell you, Peter got big echoes last night." Don McKinley wrote back, saying, "Big echoes from what? Trees? Houses? Airplanes? Certainly not aurora at 106!" That went on for some time. Then when we finally got it all sorted out.
AM  One sort of side point there, maybe not particular with reference to the Saskatchewan background, but on that point there, I recall when we started the IGY planning in 1956, before the installation, and I had to plan this radar network for the high arctic, I remember quite a number of American researchers in radar from the aurora said "Oh, you're wasting your time and money. You can't possibly get echoes from up in the high arctic. The aspect angles are so great you'll never get anything." But fortunately we didn't believe them and went ahead.
PF  So much of that is true. I don't want to monopolize this thing, but if I can tell you one other little anecdote. When they first approached DRB about the possibility of putting a big radar in Canada, that eventually became the Prince Albert Radar, they called a meeting, I think it was in Troy, New York. So I went, and there were a number of other people there, and it turned out the only reason I was there was because they wanted to ask me one question, and that question was "Can you get echoes from aurora at 440 MHz?" and I said "I don't know." But I said that the theoreticians have said "no", but they had said "no" to 106 MHz, so how could we trust them. So they did go ahead and put the Prince Albert radar in Prince Albert.
GS  Allen, any more?
AM  No. I'd just like to reaffirm what a great guy Balfour Currie was. He was an inspiration to all of us that ever went to the University of Saskatchewan, and his moral influence was at least as great as his scientific influence.
PF  Yes, if anybody had a work ethic, Balfour Currie had a work ethic. If any graduate student could ever keep up with him he was made for life.
RN  We gave him and Frank Davies honorary DSc's at York.
PF  I remember that.
PF  We should mention the other people. Don McKinley was a really big influence in Canada, and Don Rose was probably the person behind the scenes who did more than anybody else to generate space activity in Canada.
AM  McKinley, for example, isn't recognized very much as being a major factor in getting the rocket program going, and yet he was a tremendous supplier of resources there. He committed the whole of space electronics, or at least created it out of what was formerly called the Defence 2 Section, and for many years there they provided all the payload engineering for the rocket program, once NRC started their side of it.

[Break between the first and second session.]

Alister Vallance Jones

GS  Alister, take us back to some of the key points on the optical side at Saskatchewan.
AVJ  It's hard to be sure one is being fair to all the participants. I think the influence of Herzberg on spectroscopy was quite important. Most of the fundamental lecture courses that graduate students were taking had been pioneered by Herzberg. But he left, of course, and Bill Petrie arrived.
GS  They didn't overlap?

Alister Vallance Jones speakingNot really, I don't think. Balfour Currie, of course, in his work during the Polar Year with Frank Davies, they had made quite a number of spectroscopic observations, of aurora, I guess, and many plates of aurora and nightglow spectra during that time. But I think the interest in trying to get auroral spectra came with Petrie. He set up a system with a big surplus lens, and a nice diffraction grating, and got some infrared spectra, but rather weak ones, because the aurora is enormously faint in comparison with most laboratory sources. One key was that Petrie's work attracted the interest of Gerson at Air Force Cambridge, and he provided this contract to Petrie to start up this optical work. The other key to it was the equipment which was involved - you need a very fast camera for auroral spectra, and this was being developed by Aden Meinel at Yerkes Observatory, who built the revolutionary Schmidt cameras, flat-field Schmidt cameras which were ideal for this auroral work, f/0.8 aperature, and 5 inches in size, and this was provided to Petrie who set it up in a casing with a grating and slit and everything. He and Small, a graduate student at that time, obtained some very fine, high-resolution spectra of aurora, which was something which hadn't been done up to that time in the visible. The use of diffraction gratings meant that they got good resolution right through the whole spectral range. Some earlier spectra, such as the Norweigans were good at, used prisms, and that gives you good resolution in the blue end and the ultraviolet, but not very good in the red. This work between Meinel at Yerkes and Petrie at Saskatchewan gave very good spectra right through that whole spectral range. That was being done when I arrived as a research asssociate, and Don Hunten had arrived just a little bit earlier. Don Hunten followed the other tack, a new development to use a photomultiplier as a detector, and a grating which rotates slowly with a cam and so on, and it turned out that you could get a very nice auroral spectrum in about 15 seconds; not at the highest resolution, but still capable of giving quantitative information such as Ralph was talking about. At the same time, we continued the work with the big grating spectrographs, and even got a much bigger camera provided by the U.S. Air Force which was an 8-inch diameter entrance, and gave some very fine spectra. So that's what started that work. It went on for a number of years, trying to get quantitative results, trying to detect faint lines which indicated other molecules and processes. A good deal of research went on with a number of graduate students such as Don Shemansky, and perhaps I might mention, on the photoelectic side, Lyle Broadfoot, who worked with Hunten, and later, when Hunten and Broadfoot left Saskatchewan they moved to Kitt Peak Observatory, they did really first-line research on the spectra of the outer planets, Jupiter and Saturn and so on, using these techniques that had first been developed, I suppose, in Saskatchewan, in a sense. And there were other things: the development of the infrared spectrum was pioneering work, between 1 and 2 microns, with Herb Gush, Don Shemansky and other people who got increasingly interesting results which culminated eventually, I suppose, in the work using interferometric methods, Michelson interferometer. Gush, of course, went on to do this kind of work in Toronto and after spending some time in France learning how to do it, all this sort of mushroomed out into a number of different fields which in a way had its origin in those early years between 1951, say, and 1954, in Saskatoon.

What else is supposed to be here? It's hard to do justice to the prime movers and so on. I have written a lot of this material down which has been distributed, so a more authoritative and well-balanced account will be found there.

GS  That was the first time that I had read that Herzberg essentially donated a spectrograph that Petrie used to get auroral spectra. I didn't know that before. Did you overlap Petrie by a little bit?
AVJ  Not really. What happened was he offered me the associate researchship. I visited him while I was on a cross-country trip to visit the Rockies with Catherine and some friends, and talked to him and he arranged for me to come. I went back to Ottawa for some time, and then when I came back Petrie had just decided to leave, if fact, to DRB, he went to DRB. He essentially left all the work that had been going on at Saskatchewan to Don Hunten and myself. I guess he also was able to obtain some of the Meinel cameras which had been developed for use in Saskatoon, and duplicated them and set them up in Churchill. They worked with those for a number of years. Let's see. I don't know how much more one can say, except that eventually both of these lines led into space research of the times. The infrared work earlier on the oxygen bands proved to be a very interesting field which first required balloons to get a long diurnal variation to understand the theory of it, and then rockets to get the height profile, and that was done in collaboration with Wayne Evans and Don Hunten who was by then down at Kitt Peak.
GS  The first Canadian singlet-delta payload would ..
AVJ  Yes, Ted Llewellyn arrived about the time that Wayne Evans was in full flight with his balloon experiments, and then with Ted's enthusiastic help we started to try out flying some more balloons. First, some fairly simple photometer payloads which could be launched with a crew of volunteers from the Physics Department who went out and launched the balloon and blew it up, and so on. And then, later, there were the bigger ones, and finally, a collaboration with the Naval Research program to launch a real monster at Churchill which was - I think it was something like an 800 lb payload. These all had a theoretical basis to understand how the OH bands varied at night, the diurnal variation, what happens when the sun comes up, and so on. You need a long flight lasting 24 hours or so to follow the whole cycle. In the end this work was very successful. It also laid the foundations to a whole series of rocket experiments measuring the height profiles of OH, oxygen bands. This also led to a collaboration with the Swedes - Dr. Witt, and many of Dr. Llewellyn's payloads were actually flown by the Swedish experimenters. One thing I should mention which is quite interesting: in the first small rocket experiment, the Nike-Cajun one from the newly established range at Churchill, established for the IGY, was this experiment of Bob Lowe's, who was then at CARDE.
RN  He's just upstairs.
AVJ  Yes, and now has been at Western Ontario for many years since then - and that gave a good profile of sodium emission - no, I'm sorry -
GS  Yes, sodium and hydroxyl.
AVJ  - yes, both of those, which was a first for Canadian experimenters with rockets measuring height profiles. Well, maybe that's enough.

Gordon Shepherd

GS  Don, do you want to add anything?
DM  I was going to ask you if you had something to say?
GS  Two things. We've covered a lot of ground, but when I first arrived as an assistant professor in Saskatoon, it was 1957- I sort of missed the IGY. The IGY was starting but I hadn't been involved in the planning - Balfour thought I should go back and look at the 3000 MHz system, because you hadn't mentioned - I think it was Bob Chapman who followed you [PF] and he found he was getting echoes when the transmitter was turned off - getting signals. Do you remember that?
PF  No. We had noise signals on that thing the winter that we operated it.
DM It was actually published in Nature, wasn't it?
PF That's right, published in Nature - and what was it, 10, 12 years later Ted Hartz did the same thing at Ottawa, but I'm trying to think what it was that Bob Chapman did. I remember he worked on that thing.
GS  I'm not sure what the objective of his thesis was. It might have still been another search for echoes. But as I say, he found that he was getting these signals when the transmitter was off, and he didn't explain this in his thesis, and Balfour thought maybe I should pick this up. I was now a spectroscopist, having done Raman spectroscopy with Harry Welsh, and so I think the idea there was some molecular emission.
PF Petrie had the idea that it was free-free transitions.

Gordon ShepherdWell, I spend some time looking at this, and I really didn't have the right background. I wasn't making any progress in designing an experiment that would go anywhere. Don Hunten came along one day, and said, "I bought these Fary-Perot plates, and I'm never going to make any use of them. Why don't I give them to you." So that's how I got into the Fabry-Perot business, and I've been an interferometric spectroscopist ever since. And I think it does illustrate what small events can change your life, because that kind of determined my career - just a generous gift on his part.

And the other one that happened to me relates to ISIS-2. ISIS-2 was of course the last of the Alouette - ISIS series, and DRTE somehow let it be known that they would be willing to accept a proposal from a university, and Cliff Anger was the first one that learned about this. He and I were up at Churchill launching a rocket, and Cliff got me involved, so we both wrote a proposal. Mine is about 4 pages long - I think I've still got it - to measure 6300 Angstrom red-line emission from the satellite. We sent it in and got this letter - it was accepted! The next day Don Rose phoned me up and said "What have you done!?"

IM "Where's the money?"
GS - Yeah, where's the money. I said, "Well, DRTE invited me, they're going to pay for it, right?" and he said "Oh, no they're not. You a university professor and NRC is bound to pay for it." Ian wrote this up in his note that he just circulated. And Don, although he was pretty upset at that time, went off and convinced the grants section that they should fund it, and that it would be a good thing to do.
IM  It wasn't an easy job, either. I sat in on a couple of meetings, and he really made a good case. And it was just before he retired, too.
GS  NRC gaves us each a quarter of a million dollars.
IM  The NRC Grants and Scholarship Branch had never dealt with anything like that before, this was the first time.
GS  And then RCA spent it all, and we had to go back and ask for another quarter of a million.
IM  That wasn't easy, either.
GS  But I was told later that the money stayed in the NRC base budget, so everybody was happy after. But it says a lot about Don Rose, and we'll hear more about him.
RN  It goes back to what Peter was saying, that in those days there were many influential senior people who really could get things done.
GS Yes, and Don was certainly one.
GS I think we'll close, unless anyone has a remark about Saskatchewan, we'll close the session and go on to another one.