Transcript of Roman A. Schmitt, Ph.D
How Oregon State University Grew Nuclear Science- 50th Anniversary of OSU NERHP Graduate Program
Radiation Center OSU in Roman Schmitt’s Office
Corvallis Oregon on October 12, 2009
73 minute transcript edited for clarity by narrator
Karl McCreary (KM) interviewer: Collections Archivist at the Oregon State University Archives
Dr. Roman Schmitt (RS) narrator: He studied at Illinois College and then completed his Masters and Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1953. He was a founding staff member of the company General Atomics in 1956. After teaching at the OSU Radiation Center for three years, he was invited to become a full professor in the department of Chemistry in 1969. He was funded by the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) for studies of Meteorite and Lunar rock samples. In 1972 he won the George P. Merrill Award by the Council of the National Academy of Sciences for his pioneering work on the determination of rare earth elements.
KM Hello, my name is Karl McCreary with the OSU archives and I am here to talk with Dr. Roman Schmitt, a faculty member with the Nuclear Engineering and Health Safety program here at OSU. Thank you very much for speaking with us today in your office in the Radiation Center on October 12, 2009.
RS My name is Roman Schmitt. I joined Oregon State University in 1966. I am a half time or was a half time professor at the Department of Chemistry and half time at the Radiation Center. That was my appointment. So strictly speaking, I’m not a member of the Nuclear Engineering Department but I have interacted with the members of the department for the past 40 years or so.
This is a little bit of history about the TRIGA reactor that you might be interested in. Because the TRIGA reactor is a primary facility for nuclear engineering training, research, and isotope production, I will relate some history of the Oregon State University Nuclear Engineering’s Department’s acquisition of the TRIGA reactor.
General Atomic is a division of General Dynamics Corporation that was started in about 1955 in San Diego, California in a little, red school house at the southeast corner of Mission Bay in San Diego. The president was Dr. Frederic de Hoffmann and the director of sciences was Dr. Edward Creutz. Groups of physics, chemistry, metallurgy, mathematics, nuclear engineering, etc. were formed. I joined the chemistry group in 1956.
During the 1956-1957 years, consultants such as Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, Freeman Dyson participated in seminars. Teller stressed that the nuclear reactor for universities should be operable by high school students, that is, simple and very safe. Such a design resulted in a Zirconium hydride-Uranium fuel that can be pulsed and has an inherent self-quenching phenomena that can reach maximum powers of around 1000 Megawatts with a half width of about 10 milliseconds or so. The first TRIGA operated about 1958 or so at General Atomic. The 40 sample rack for activations was first stationary and later engineered into a rotating rack for uniform neutron fluxes in the samples.
During the early 1960s, Dr. Chih H. Wang contacted General Atomic in San Diego and he decided that a TRIGA reactor was the best facility for OSU at the Radiation Center. He wrote a proposal to the National Science Foundation requesting funds for the TRIGA purchase.
The following account is the National Science Foundation’s approval of Dr. Wang’s written OSU proposal. General Atomic at that time had outside consultants for the various groups. For the chemistry group, Professor Jack Irvine of MIT Department of Chemistry would visit us about twice a year or so. During the spring of 1966, Jack Irvine visited and related the following story. He had been asked by the National Science Foundation to evaluate the Dr. Wang OSU proposal for a TRIGA reactor. Jack said that when he was on his way to Corvallis for an onsite meeting with Dr. Wang, he felt that the proposal could be round-filed, that is, ready for NSF’s evaluated refusal.
After Jack Irvine’s onsite visit to OSU, he said that Dr. Wang sold him the idea that OSU required a TRIGA reactor for the proper training of future nuclear engineers, chemists, and health physicists.
I have known Dr. Wang for about four decades and was also very impressed by his great foresight and vision and persuasive abilities that he was one of the best directors in science that I have known in my life time.
As we all know world-class units in a university evolve if the initial cadre or professors have attended world-class universities before joining such units. To achieve this goal for the Nuclear Engineering department, Dr. Wang convinced PhD individuals from University of California-Berkeley and Stanford universities and former AEC employees to join the Radiation Center and Nuclear Engineering department.
Dr. Wang also provided the Radiation Center overhead funds for researchers who used the TRIGA reactor for purchasing the latest radioactive detectors and equipment. Finally, starting researches while Dr. Wang was the Nuclear Engineer chairman and continuing under subsequent Nuclear Engineering chairpersons, a NASA funded research group at the Radiation Center was able to analyze quantitatively via neutron activation analysis the composition of 25-35 chemical elements in over 1000 individual moon samples and thousands of terrestrial samples and rocks plus meteorites. All of these researches were published in the scientific literature. Also the College of Oceanography also analyzed many samples of oceanic samples at the Radiation Center.
The TRIGA reactor is used primarily for training Nuclear Engineering students and for research. In addition, the first Nuclear Engineering department chairman Dr. Chih Wang realized the need for extension projects that benefitted the state in general. One such benefit was the use of neutron activation analysis in forensic applications by state and county law officials. Over the past 40 years, the Radiation Center individuals such as Vern Smith and Michael Conrady have employed neutron activation on hundreds of evidence items such as bullets for the solutions of about 30 homicides or suicides. Other evidences included glass, paint etc.
In conclusion, the Nuclear Engineering department, conceived and structured by the late Dr. Chih Wang, recognizes his many great contributions.
KM Chih Wang sounds like a very influential person. Basically, it sounds like the whole department would not exist.
RS Exactly. Exactly. It was in his mind, you see, remember 1959 as I understand it – I wasn’t here at the time. I came in 66. But it first started, I think, as a sort of a subunit in the Mechanical Engineering department. And then after that, then the Radiation Center, I think, was built by 1964? And then the reactor, when I came up in 66. In November of 65, but when he interviewed me, he told me he was getting a TRIGA reactor. Well I had not known this. I was at General Atomic at the time, but that’s a big company. There are about two thousand people there and the sales group was different from the research group.
KM So it was possible to not know what was going on from one side of the company to the other.
RS Yes, yes. We didn’t know. I mean, they were selling many TRIGA reactors around the world. Okay. They have sold I think what about 60 TRIGA reactors around the world.
RS Right. So I had no idea that they were getting one here. Because I was doing my research on meteorites at the time NASA funded. So I had no idea you know. There were many others that were funded from the outside even at General Atomic and so they had their own. See, so they didn’t know.
KM Was OSU the first to get a TRIGA reactor from –
RS Yes. OSU was the first one on this side of the Rockies.
RS I think Illinois, the University of Illinois had a small TRIGA. I think there was a TRIGA on the East Coast, later, after we got one here. The University of California-Irvine also has a TRIGA reactor and that’s in their chemistry building. Yes, and I think there’s a commercial company I think in the greater L.A. area that has a TRIGA reactor.
KM Did you have a hand in the design or how it would look when it was installed here? Or was that work done before you came here in 66?
RS No you see, as I understand it, in my many conversations with Dr. Wang through the years, the design looked sort of like a package, okay, that General Atomic sold to Oregon State. What happened was, that Dr. Wang, first of all was able to convince the state that we needed some kind of radioactive studies up here. So OSU got money from the state to build the Radiation Center. Then OSU bought a small reactor, the AGN reactor. Now that was about a watt of power – one watt. That’s my guess. It was in that ballpark you see. Very, very low energy. But this now, the TRIGA we have here, is a million watts.
RS A megawatt. Okay.
KM So it increased (laughs).
RS No. We have a one-megawatt; power plants generate about a thousand megawatts.
RS But you see here the reactor here is like a million times more than the AGN. They had the little AGN in the Radiation Center in the northeast corner of the Center. It could be used by the nuclear engineering students but that’s low power. So he wanted one that you could use for many different ways. So therefore, he conceived the idea: a TRIGA reactor. So he formulated the whole proposal to the National Science Foundation.
KM And it was successful.
RS So when the NSF approved it, you see, they essentially, approved the design of what it should look like, you know, the whole reactor. The engineers here and the construction engineers to built the Center in the back so it could house the reactor.
KM Do you know what happened to the old reactor? Was it pretty much obviously dismantled and –
RS Yeah. It left here, gee, twenty-five years ago, I guess. I don’t know where it’s at, at all.
KM Okay. We had a question come up about the cyclotron that was here on campus and that just sort of disappeared it seemed like. You probably never saw it in operation.
RS No, and I never used that, right.
KM Okay. So Chih Wang was very, very influential. Was he, what kind of, was he very engaging person? Was he very nice?
RS Oh yes, yes. I got along famously with him from the first time I met him in November 65. You see, he was born in China. During World War II, he served in the military on trains, I guess, and kept them safe you know. And in the southeastern, is my understanding, the southeastern part of China, he got his degree there, then came over here then and got a Ph.D. degree here at Oregon State, is my recollection, in chemistry. Then he became familiar with how they use Carbon-14. Afterwards when he joined the chemistry department, one of his first students was Dr. Reed. Don Reed.
RS Okay. And so Don Reed was at the Radiation Center for many years before Don joined the department of Biophysics Biochemistry, yes. So he [Dr. Wang] was a very dynamic. What he did was he did his homework. You see, he’s very intelligent. And I’ve had, I’ve been fortunate; I’ve had maybe about three directors in my life. And some of them are world-class. For example, Dr. Creutz in San Diego worked on the atomic bomb. He had gone to Carnegie Mellon and he was the director of science of General Atomic.
RS And at the University of Illinois a director that I was fortunate to work under was Donald Kerst, Professor Donald William Kerst who invented the betatron. But Dr. Wang is right there. Let me put it this way, he’s their equal in directorship and in vision of what science is all about and how to interact with people. He had that ability. Some people… he was a gifted individual. He never had, he never blew his own horn. He didn’t have to because he was very intelligent.
KM And he had a passion for his work.
RS Incredible, yeah. I mean twenty-four slash seven, I mean he was a very hard worker. Extremely hard. But he knew how to get things done. You and I know, to succeed you have to know what you’re doing, business or whatever and you have to know how to work with people and you have to know how to handle money – those three, otherwise, you fail if one of those is not working in any group. He had all three of them. He was a fabulous individual. After he retired – there’s his picture there, you see? After he retired, he would come in here, we’d chat about everything under the sun. He was an extremely engaging person, really.
KM Did it surprise you that working in San Diego, California as you did for General Atomic, did it surprise you that you were suddenly coming into little Corvallis to work for OSU or the idea of working for Dr. Wang was like, I want to be part of this program. You know, if there’s cows a block down from where I have my office, that doesn’t matter a bit. Was that your sense when you came here?
RS Well, I had worked nine years at General Atomic. I had been doing research for, and NASA funded it, on meteorites, okay, which were very…I guess, other people would say were very significant for nuclear synthesis as hard data. Then the company decided that well, I should really get into the flow of things as they saw it and get out of pure research. I did not like that so I wanted to go into independent research. I knew some faculty at UCSD, because I’d interacted with them at Chicago and they wrote letters, and one letter found its way up to Corvallis. A professor Arnold at UCSD knew Professor Kenneth W. Hedberg here. You probably know Ken Hedberg is about ninety years old, I think at this time. And anyway, he’s obviously retired many years, although still keeps busy. And so Ken Hedberg got this letter and he knew that Dr. Wang—they were in the same department—was setting up the Center and he was interested in somebody who could use a reactor. So he contacted him, then Dr. Wang contacted me and we had an interview. I knew anybody who had a TRIGA reactor knows what he’s doing. I knew what the TRIGA reactor was. I had used a TRIGA many, many times in San Diego. It was a world-class reactor. It was an excellent position, teaching halftime and then doing your own research. You know, lunar samples etcetera, etcetera. It was a small university.
KM And it was by word of mouth.
RS Word of mouth absolutely.
KM That’s cool.
RS Most things are done that way in a sense. Although these days you read science magazine or what other magazines as you well and I know, it’s all equal opportunity etcetera and the whole world reads it, you may have two hundred applicants or five hundred applicants for a position. It’s word of mouth.
KM So how do you research lunar rocks with the TRIGA reactor? Just curious.
RS Okay very simple, very simple. You take any element like Lanthanum okay. You put a little bit of Lanthanum in a vile then you put it in the nuclear reactor. It’s going to absorb neutrons in the reactor. There are forty positions around the reactor itself. There are fuel elements, a large number of fuel elements, then the there’s a rotating rack that rotates. You put your little vile in the rotating rack.
KM Like a centrifuge?
RS No, it’s going very slowly about one RPM.
KM Oh, okay.
RS Very slow. So the neutrons go through your Lanthanum standard and through your sample that has Lanthanum in it and it absorbs some of the neutrons, so it becomes radioactive. So then if you take the sample out, you put it on a radiation detector and the Lanthanum radioactive isotope, which has formed will emit certain characteristic gamma rays. You just measure them and then that tells you how much Lanthanum you have present there.
KM And Lanthanum is one element that you’re looking for among many?
RS Yes. So in general, we were able to neutron activate a moon rock or a meteorite or a sample from the bottom of the ocean or whatever or a sample from Mars. You activate a gram or a hundred micrograms depending on how large your sample is. Then you let it be bombarded with these neutrons for anywhere from two hours to ten hours or whatever and you take the sample out you put it on your radiation detectors and you measure the different gamma rays from the various chemical elements and then you can easily detect about twenty-five or thirty-five elements depending upon what the sample is. And then you also put in some standards, say a known amount of Lanthanum, a known amount of Barium, and a known amount of Sodium.
KM So what was the most surprising thing as far as the lunar samples that you found – what was the thing that really just stood out in your mind as like we did not expect this, we did not expect to find this?
RS Well first of all (laughs), Professor Harold Urey won the Nobel Prize in 1934, discovering heavy hydrogen. He actually wrote a book on the planets and he was the one responsible why science, largely why science has been done on the moon rocks. Professor Harold C. Urey. Yes, he was a professor at the University of Chicago then he retired and became a professor at UCSD. He lobbied Congress before they were going to the moon.
KM Right, right, okay.
RS John F. Kennedy, his speech, remember John F. Kennedy?
KM Oh, yeah.
RS Okay, then Urey started lobbing the Congress and says, let’s do science on these samples. Okay, so he lobbied, now, he was world-wide known. Well, you don’t know him, but everyone at that time recognized who he was. This was remember 1965. A long time ago, right? So anyway he recommended that they do science. So Congress funded the money to have researchers work on the lunar samples. And it turns out that about 150 investigators, principle investigators, around the world were able to participate in the analysis of lunar samples.
KM So did each university get one or two of the actual samples?
RM No, only the principle investigators.
KM Okay so…
RM Excuse me, there’s (laughing) and the governors of the states got a sample.
KM Uh huh. (laughing)
RM Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. President Nixon informed the, remember this is 1969, he informed the state department, that’s my understanding, that each governor of the states in the U.S.A. would get a small sample. Now where those samples are, nobody knows. If in private collections or what the governors at that time did with them. Good question.
KM It would be nice to know.
RS Yes, yes.
KM (laughing) Where’s Oregon’s sample is.
RS Yes, but the only ones who got in Oregon were OSU and U of O. The University of Oregon also got samples because they had two principle investigators there: late professor Gordon G. Goles my very good friend, the late Gordon Goles and Professor Daniel F. Weill. They were in the department of Geosciences at University of Oregon, so they got samples.
KM Now we but of course we got samples too because we were testing them.
RS Yeah, because I was also a principle investigator. The ones who got the samples had been largely involved in the geosciences and study of meteorites. So it’s a natural since meteorites are building blocks of our Earth and the other planets okay, basic building blocks, it was natural for them to be also excited about studying the moon samples, of course.
KM Of course.
RS Yeah, so that’s the next step. But there were other geologists who had not studied meteorites who also were able to obtain samples. So they wrote a proposal and they were reviewed by NASA and I assume most of them were accepted but I don’t know. About 150 participated. And that gives you a feeling, see all those three layers there. Those are all volumes of the research done on the lunar samples.
RS From 1969. I think my latest one is about 1993 and then I just stopped getting them.
KM So is there still research being done on lunar samples?
KM The samples that we tested, that you tested here, are they still here?
RS Oh no, no. We had to return them all.
KM Ah, okay.
RS You have to return them all because they’re all government properties.
RS To obtain the first samples we had to go down to Houston and bring them back personally and with the state police. And when we got to Portland, the state police picked me up with the moon rocks and brought me right to the Radiation Center.
KM Oh my gosh.
RS And they saw me put them into the safe and then they left.
RS Yes, remember we did not know if we were going to go back again to the Moon.
KM Right, right.
RS So they were very precious. That was the reason that all the investigators had to take special precautions to get their samples from Houston into their own safes and their own laboratory.
KM So you came down with a police escort carrying the rocks, well I guess it would’ve been I-5, yeah.
RS Yeah they came down, I think I’m in the back seat you know. Here I got a couple of them (laughing) nice ride, right? (laughing) What was interesting okay first of all they found out that there was no water essentially on the moon. Or if it is, it’s so small I guess there’s some work now just recently that’s been published or it suggests there might be a little bit, but it’s waterless. Okay, that was one big surprise. The other surprise is that the chemical profile is very deficient in some of the alkaline elements like Potassium and Cesium and Rubidium. It’s deficient in them. And the other one the other great surprise is that—oh yes it’s also deficient in volatile elements some of them like Lead and Cadmium, very deficient, relative to the meteorites let’s say, okay. The other big surprise which was that it’s very deficient in Europium. Now this is a new concept for you. There are fourteen rare earth elements, okay. From Lanthanum to Lutetium everyone’s heard the element Barium, right? Ok, after Barium in the periodic table come fourteen elements from Lanthanum to Lutetium, from Lanthanum to Lutetium, fourteen earth elements. Now Europium is right here. Now no one expected, everyone just had no idea, why Europium is very deficient like maybe a factor of five or something of this order in the moon samples. Relative to the meteorites okay or relative to basalts which you have on earth. No one had any idea. I could tell you an interesting story, why is Europium deficient? Well, Dr. John Wood, he was at an Harvard institute, he came up with a theory that the moon is a very reducing atmosphere, very little oxygen, there’s no atmospheric oxygen you know. Very, very reducing atmosphere. All of the rare earth elements generally are plus three in Earth rocks.
KM In the weight?
RS No, no. Plus three in their ionization.
RS Okay. Now for example Sodium is plus one, Sodium and Potassium are plus one, your high school chemistry. The Beryllium, Magnesium, and Calcium are plus two they can loose two electrons see. The rare earth elements plus three so they can loose three electrons in their aqueous solution for example. Okay. Now Europium can exist as plus three but also as plus two.
RS Yes, yes. Ah, well it’s becomes the electronic configuration of the electrons in Eu which I won’t go into. So but if you have conditions that are very reducing, it will put the Europium, in the plus two state. And therefore so what happens to it, well it can go into other minerals which essentially are conducive for a plus two ion to fit into. Now one of those happens to be mineral Anorthite, which is Calcium Aluminosilicate and Calcium is plus two and Europium plus two is about the same size as Calcium plus two so if you have a liquid magma moon and near the surface liquid and Anorthite starts crystallizing out, and the Europium which is plus two kind of likes to fit into that lattice. So now if you separate Anorthite from this magma okay the magma will be deficient in Europium. The Lanthanum plus three is going to stay down in the liquid magma. But the Europium, when Anorthite crystallizes out and separates out from the rest of the liquid just like ice from water you know. Dr. Warkita and I got some samples from Dr. Wood and sure enough we found out that the Anorthite was enriched in Europium just as Dr. Wood had predicted and we published that in Science in 1970. So anyway, that was a very big surprise but that just shows you that the moon is very deficient in an oxidizing potential.
KM Did that influence any kind of decision to obviously create a colony and try to settle the moon because it would basically say this would be a lot harder to try to settle it, colonize it, than previously expected?
RS Well it’s always, it’s always a problem when you have deficient non-oxidizing environment you know. Lots of, some of the planets they have a lot of hydrogen present or helium present that’s a great reducing atmosphere and so you don’t want to live in that at all.
KM Like Venus, I think.
RS Well the giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn actually are the ones which are mostly hydrogen and helium but Venus has that has a large CO2 atmosphere.
RS That’s about two hundred atmospheres of CO2 on it, incredible atmosphere and lightning like you wouldn’t believe in there, yeah.
KM Kind of like Kansas or something like that?
RS Well maybe (laughing).
KM So before you were able to get lunar samples, you were working on the meteorites.
RS Yes and all the others. The same year that the moon samples came back in 69, a large meteorite fell down in Mexico, Allende. Allende is a province down there I think, just south of the border.
RS It’s not too far, maybe a hundred miles south off the border from El Paso, somewhere in that area in Mexico and those meteorites, everybody went down there a lot of people did and most of us that were getting ready for the moon rocks analyzed that as well. You know, it’s another way of testing all your equipment and so forth so that you’re ready. Oh yeah, everyone was just all geared up for the samples and we were obviously but then Apollo 11 was followed by 12 and then 14, 15, 16, 17. Then we also got samples from the moon from the Russians. See, the Russians sent up Lunar 16, Lunar 20, and Lunar 24. And these, as you look at the moon, full moon, they’re on sort of the right to the center a little bit up there, 16, 20, and 24. That’s what they called them. But they were unmanned of course but they landed on the moon. Then they drilled a hole and brought samples back. Then there were samples exchanged by the U.S. and by Russians so that we gave them some of our missions and we got some of theirs.
KM That’s cool.
RS And at the Radiation Center, we were able to get samples from all the lunar missions all those roughly thousand samples that we were able to analyze were individual samples.
KM Did we, when the U.S. went to the moon, did they, was this a different method? Did they collect rocks from the surface rather than drilling in?
RS Well they did both, yeah. They cored and got cores of various depths.
RS And that was exceedingly important. And they picked up different all sorts of many different rocks.
KM Right off the surface like so they did both?
KM Okay. And was it surprising that there was, I know that the Cold War you know there was a détente in the 70s but this is something that superseded any kind of Cold War politics, I mean science was much greater than, seen as a much greater good so the cooperation the sharing of these rocks, that was not surprising to most scientists –
RS That’s right.
KM Basically, this is for the good of mankind; we will share even though we’ve got missiles pointed at each other.
RS You mention Cold War. I’m reading that now. You probably read it? Gaddis’s book?
RS It’s good.
KM Is it?
RS It’s good.
KM Who’s this?
RS I think John Lewis Gaddis, G-A-D-D-I-S. It’s called Cold War, published five years ago? He’s a professor at Yale University; he specialized in this. You had mentioned Cold War and the Cold War was essentially from ‘45 to’91 or so.
KM I lived, I grew up, I mean (laughing) I –
RS You gotta read Cold War.
RS I’m about two-thirds, three-quarters through. It’s very good.
KM I know the name, I haven’t heard –
RS Yeah, Gaddis. I think it’s G-A-D-D-I-S.
KM Okay. Cool.
RS Yeah. Lewis, John Lewis, I think.
KM In coming here, I mean you’ve been here basically on campus for sixty, no since ‘66.
RS Right, since 1966.
KM So with all these folks coming in, you know for their fiftieth year celebration has it been just this flood of memories?
RS Well I haven’t seen any, first one I saw was Wanda.
KM Right. I saw you, I saw you guys down there and thought wow.
RS Yeah, that’s Wanda, right. (laughing) She had stopped here, she was secretary for Dr. Wang or worked here you know many years ago, at the Center, and that’s where I got to know her. Then she went on to get for her degree. And then she came back I think as I said maybe about fifteen, twenty years ago. That’s the last time I had seen her. Yeah, it’s great when you immediately recognize somebody to smile, the person, yeah that’s Wanda, yeah. But I haven’t seen, I haven’t seen Donald. I’ll probably see him tonight and so forth some of the others.
KM So there’s a big reception going on tonight.
RS Yeah, tonight. Five-thirty tonight. Jose Reyes is giving a talk and I think she’s giving a talk, Wanda. And there will probably be some other reminiscences.
RS Will be a great honor for her, Dr. Wang’s wife Louise Wang.
KM I’m really impressed by how many folks that have been here since the 60s are still with us, I mean we were, I was just sitting in a room with an interview watching Little, Dr. Little and I heard that Don, I mean Don Reed is still here.
RS Uh huh.
KM And this is, it’s pretty remarkable that there’s this you know there’s this many folks that were there at the very start as there are.
RS Did you by chance, interview him yet?
KM We will. We haven’t, we haven’t already. I haven’t talked to him personally, this is my first interview with this project and it’s, I’m very green at this so forgive me.
RS No problem, no.
KM The person that I most know about is actually Dr. Trout, Dale E. Trout.
RS Way back.
KM Way back. And we have actually a decent amount of records from him that came over to us which were very
KM Which we’re very happy to have.
KM And so you remember Trout?
RS Yes, yes. He had the old x-ray unit I think, yeah. Long time ago, before the, in the 60s or before.
KM And I extend this to you that if you have records from your time that are still here, things like correspondence, your project proposals, anything like that
RS No, don’t have that. I don’t keep the proposals. I think they been round filed a long time ago and so forth.
KM Article reprints, I mean anything you think might have reflecting what you’ve done here where we’d love to archive it and save it for posterity cause that’s essentially what we do is document the history of OSU. We’re very excited because we don’t have a whole lot from this program from Nuclear Engineering or any part of this so when we got the Dale Trout papers it was like wow, this really, it certainly was the first thing that I had seen.
RS Did you get any papers from Dr. Wang?
KM I believe so, I believe so. There, before I got, before I came to OSU in 2000, I saw, I saw somebody, I believe it’s Dr. Wang, I saw his name as one of the collections that we had. That’s definitely something I’m going to go look back on it and find out more about him when I go back to the archives is exactly what do we have? Because honestly, before this whole project I didn’t know a whole lot about him. What I knew about this program and things like, we actually have pictures of the photos of the old cyclotron he installed and I knew that we had a reactor but I didn’t know a whole lot about it. And so this is for me, this is uncovering a lot of history, just this whole project which is really fun.
RS You know, as I mentioned in my little preamble here, first here’s another sign of a great director. And you can, a great director whether he’s of an orchestra or of a hospital or anywhere a great director, when you start an organization, you want to get the best people in at the beginning, not at the end, at the beginning to start it. And then let them do what they do okay. So what he did was he got Alan Robinson from Stanford Nuclear Engineering, he got John Ringle from UC-Berkeley, got Steve Binney from UC-Berkeley, I mentioned this here okay. Solid, okay. Nuclear engineering. That means he has a solid core for starting the Nuclear Engineering department, okay, solid core. Then, but he needed someone to work, who knew reactors with radioactivity so if my memory is right he brought in Art Johnson. I think these are all ‘65, ‘66, ‘67 people all of us. He brought AJ in; he was with AEC, I’ve forgotten exactly where, but you should –
KM Atomic Energy Commission?
RS Yeah. Atomic Energy Commission. Working some, I think in the northwest somewhere but exceedingly competent. So he brought him in for the Health Physics on the reactor. So when you have that core and then he needed someone to operate the reactor so he brought in TV Anderson. TV Anderson, Terrance Anderson the first name is, I think Terrance TV had been with maybe Idaho Falls or some place and operating a reactor there so he brought him in, see, now you got five people, you’ve got them okay. That’s how you make a reactor go. And then you need someone to use the reactor all the time for research and so he brought me in. So anyway so that’s, you bring in the group, let them do what they want, with minimum interference, which he did minimum interference, but he was, the course was straight, I want the NE department to go. So then Loveland was my first post-doc. I came in ‘66, Loveland was ‘67. You haven’t interviewed him yet, have you? Walter Loveland? You should.
RS Okay. So he got his B.S. at M.I.T. Anybody at M.I.T. Then he gets his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, Loveland did. Walter Loveland. Then he post-docs at Argonne National Laboratory. This is how people work. So I’m here in 66 and I need a post-doc, that’s the way you get things done in a research group. So I’m coming here and I’m calling my friends, you got any post-docs around? Dr. John R. Huizenga was at Argonne National Laboratory. He later became the department chairman at University of Rochester which is first-rate. Okay so Dr. Huizenga at Argonne National Laboratory and he had Walt as his post-doc. So I knew of John because we had done some research when I was a post-doc at Illinois. I need a post-doc. Oh, I got a man here who’s working for me, he’s been with me just a short while but he, but he likes the northwest (laughs). That’s where Walt got his degree and met his wife up in the University of Washington. Ok so Walt, so here’s a chance, so Walt came here, he was my first post-doc for a year and then after that he went and joined the chemistry department full-time. Well, great, professor Loveland is a world-class scientist. He has done many experiments with the late Prof Glen Seaborg, he’s on national committees okay, he interacts with researchers at the Michigan State University. He’s world-class. Nuclear physicist chemist professor Loveland. And he’s at tiny little Oregon State okay. Okay? So anyway.
KM OSU has attracted a lot of talent –
RS That’s so that’s what happens is, if then you bring in the people that know their business that know their science give them, let them do what they want okay, write proposals etc, etc and bring in grants, teach students, post-docs, etc and that’s what Dr. Wang did and he knew that’s how you run an organization. That tells you his, what a vision he had. Others may not mention this but when you’ve been in and around a number of first-rate institutions like I have been fortunate General Atomic etc, etc you recognize. That’s what directors do. The directors, they get the best people in.
KM They don’t micromanage.
RS Yes and they bring the best people in.
RS See? They don’t micromanage.
RS The only, the only time they micromanage is to make the budget, hey you have to stay in a little bit within the budget you know and the group you know whatever. See, so that’s the only micromanagement which a good director does.
KM You let them go and find out what’s going on and take the best path cause they know their field, they know where they want to go and where they need to go.
RS That’s right. All Dr. Wang liked to see is here’s a new proposal Dr. Wang can you sign off, sure.
RS And so for that –
KM As long as it doesn’t cost too much.
RS Yeah. Same with Loveland. Loveland’s had support from the Department of Energy. Most of his life I think. The AEC, Department of Energy, okay. That tells you his talent you see.
KM They have they’re connected to different parts of the community so that they can draw upon you know sources and people and so this is why this is just you know few people knew how, Wang knew how to recruit and he knew the whole community.
RS I can embellish a little bit about on his vision for extension. Remember I said in the little preamble that training for nuclear engineering students and research you know but here is also extension. So how do you do extension? Well you, I say you benefit the community. So we had a, I don’t know if you, there was a famous case here. Really a brutal case in Tillamook; it was a double homicide about 1970. Remember that homicide?
KM Um huh.
RS Well we analyzed the evidence bullets and testified. The jury found the woman was guilty. You didn’t know that. Did ya know? Yes.
KM I didn’t know that part.
RS Yeah so we testified over there. Vern Smith and I went over there and testified. The first day we walked in oh sorry they couldn’t bring us in at the first day. We had to go back again the next day and testify. Yes. So that was a terrible case you know. Vern and I we used to give talks to various assemblages of police and law officials you know Portland or different parts and we tell them what we could do. For many of the cases when the defense attorneys became aware of the evidence analyzed by us their clients just pleaded guilty.
RS You know better to plead guilty than go through the whole thing plea bargain or something.
KM So is there an open agreement to whenever a state or regional police law enforcement agency came to you with evidence was there this tacit agreement to say okay, we will you know stop research and actually test these bullets and see.
RS Well, what we did was, they would bring in the bullets, we would analyze them then they would obtain random bullets of the same kind in the state and we’d analyze them at the same time and we’d give them the results. The Oregon State University through the Radiation Center never charged anybody for them. This was an extra extension. Now a prosecutor or a plaintiff could bring in samples as well. So it was on both sides the prosecutors and the others. In other words if someone is not, feels not guilty his attorney could request analysis of some samples.
RS Yeah. So it was entirely impartial.
KM So it, the research actually worked the same way you know you have the standard and then you have what you want to pretty much, I guess the control is that what you –
RS Yeah. Right, you have a control and analyze and control at the same time and you do it very accurately and reproducibly.
KM Yeah, that’s fascinating.
RS We could do five elements in bullets that are really and let’s see arsenic, antimony, tin, copper, and silver I think those were the five I think. And they’re very different for each batch.
KM When was the last time that you’re aware that we did this?
RS Oh gosh, Michael Conrady was here, he left a number of years ago. I think, I don’t know, ten years ago is probably the last time. Could be further I don’t know. But I think there were about thirty homicides and suicides.
RS Yeah. They’re very helpful though, the officials they were police that we could help them out. Woodfield, remember the Woodfield I-5, problem the killer, the I-5 killer?
RS We analyzed the bullets in that case.
RS Yeah. The Woodfield.
KM I had no idea.
KM Was that something that generated a lot of sort of excitement here?
RS Well yeah. Well you know I think if you go on Yahoo! or whatever I mean much of this has been reported you know in the papers like the GT. But another interesting case which is not a, does not involve a murder or in any case was in 1970 there was a, this is a kind of interesting story; this girl was over living in La Grande. And she was a teenager and you know she went to this church teenagers play in, you know lots of time they’ll play and anyway this church had a window in the door. You know, one of these kind of a windows you know, the door, and they were playing lock out, the kids were. She was on the inside and this one boy came up and he just smashed his hand right through the window, which he shouldn’t have done, and a piece of glass came in her eye, yeah and glass all over her hair. Well, her father was a sergeant on the police force so he took her to the hospital and on the way he combed her hair, the daughter’s hair and he got a little piece of glass about oh, about a centimeter long, and about seventy-five mils thick or something, little piece very tiny piece out of the hair. So what to do? It’s very expensive you know, she had glass eye, cost her five thousand total. Ok, so they contact a lawyer in La Grande, no in Pendleton. Well the lawyer there didn’t know that much about liabilities so he contacted a group up in Portland. Welsh and Associates, I guess. And so Welsh, interesting story, Welsh wrote a letter up and down the coast to all the universities, can you identify glass? Yeah. Well so all the UCSD, all universities got this letter. Well a letter landed up into the engineering department here. Dean Gleesan, is that right? Was the engineering chief. Well Gleesan and Chih Wang were good friends. George Gleeson sent a letter to Chih Wang. So Chih said he got this letter from Dean Gleeson and this attorney in Portland is trying to identify glass. I had been working on the lunar samples in 1972 or ‘73 at the time, and I said when did it happen well, about four years ago he said. I said four years, a lot could change, so I said well you know glass is made from sand and maybe after four years a lot of people, who knows, what trace elements, but we can try. So we contacted Welsh up in Portland and because you know sand is a kind of a rock in a sense. It’s solidified and it’ll have trace elements in it. It will. So that’s A-B-C, so Welsh says okay.
KM Oh, okay.
RS Contingency. He says okay he went around the country. There are four large glass manufactures in the company, only four at that time. So he went to each one of those four places and then he got, under oath, samples of glass from them and so from these four large companies, Pittsburgh Glass is one, and then there’s BF Corning, there were four of them. So we got these samples in and so what we did was we took little pieces of glass from each one of those or a number of them from each one of those four manufacturers plus the one from the hair, put them in the reactor and we saw distinct patterns for each one of them and one of them matched. One of them matched! Big corporation, so the two days before the trial we were going to testify Welsh excused the other three corporations but not the one that matched. It’s going to get better, only the one that matched in trace element profile. Now he called me the day before I guess and he said measure the thickness of it so I get my micrometer out and I measured it at seventy-five, I think, it was a long time ago. Then he said measure it again. I said okay. I measured it again and got the same number. We got them, he said! (laughing) It turns out that glass in a public building has to be something like eighty-six or something instead of seventy-five.
KM Oh, wow.
RS We got them he said! So then so the trial we flew over to La Grande, no Pendleton, and you go to Pendleton now you go to the courthouse there it will say John Kilkenny Courthouse.
RS John Kilkenny was the judge at the time. He was just a circuit judge.
RS So I went over and testified and they said Welsh told me Kilkenny is a judge’s judge. So I got in on the witness stand and I was examined and then cross examined, I’d look at Killkenny, when I saw the glint in his eye that he had it because you could explain it as much as you want detail, that he had it, and I stopped. So they kept asking me questions and then trial ended and I was able to sit in the courtroom after you’ve testified, you sit in the courtroom afterwards. Then I saw the girl, I mean she was crying there and she had a glass eye. The trial ended that day and I’m sitting in the back there and the judge called them up and said to the defense attorney, “why don’t you for this corporation, why don’t you make an offer now?” Well he did. I don’t know what that was, some ridiculous offer, so maybe five thousand and then the lawyer told the father of the girl you can accept it, you know. The father said no, I won’t accept it. Then Kilkenny ruled a little later, $125 thousand.
KM Ha! Wow!
RS And then they appealed and it went to the ninth circuit in San Francisco. By this time Kilkenny was a member of the ninth circuit! (laughing)
RS But he recused himself from the case, but they said the trial was no problem, the trial (laughing), so I think the settlement was like $150K so we wrote this up in a journal or paper, yeah we wrote it up for the lawyers in the future.
KM Oh, how funny.
RS So that’s the, yeah you can keep that. Whatever you want to do with it.
KM Okay. Cool.
RS That’s the case see. That’s the case.
RS So what I’m saying is we went to these brutal cases you know of homicides we helped to solve. The Radiation Center did not receive anything, it was helping and benefiting the communities.
KM Right, right.
RS Yeah. That’s essentially it.
KM And you got a good article out of it. Is this something that you were able to do very often out of cases or could you not, is this, this was an interesting case and it’s also a special case too because you don’t get many of these as a –
RS The case, the case, the Tillamook case was written up in the Oregon, I don’t know what they call it, Forensic Journal?
KM The Bar?
RS The Bar. The Bar, I think.
KM The Bar Journal or something.
RS Yeah, but you know I just, that, here it’s a lot out of our my field, you know, so it’s kind of a peripheral thing.
KM Right, but this is a, you wrote this up.
RS Yeah we wrote it up.
KM That’s cool.
RS Yeah, it’s kind of, it’s kind of a fun thing to do in a sense you just inform the general public of the forensic applications of neutron activation analysis.
KM So the glass was not as thick as it should have been.
RS That’s right. That was the clincher. In other words that’s really the clincher. I mean it’s one thing for the spectra to agree, you can argue at that as happenstance, but to have the wrong thickness! So he had the distributor of the glass who was in Spokane say, well we did what the customer wants he said at the trial.
KM (laughing) Oh, no. So the church was liable.
RS Well not the church, I don’t think the church had to pay, but the big corporation had to pay you know.
KM Okay, okay.
RS So the one who was defending this corporation was the Tewes. Tewes at that time was the largest lawyer group in Portland. It was big and Tewes, Jr. was the lawyer of this corporation, they wanted the best for defense see. Now I think that $125K is probably $500K now, in today’s dollars.
KM Yeah. It was a lot back then and it’s a lot, it’s even more now.
RS Yeah right. So anyway, so she, they were very happy obviously.
KM Well they had suffered, I mean she had suffered.
RS You bet, yeah. It was just an accident.
KM Well, it’s been about, it’s been about an hour and six minutes here and is there anything you want to tell me about what you’re working on now or when you look back and you say I’m really glad this was really memorable working here because, is there anything you kind of want to have as a concluding statement?
RS No, I think that this essentially is, we’re talking about the fiftieth anniversary.
KM Or just your work here.
RS Oh, it’s been absolutely great. I’m so grateful to Dr. Wang and everything fell into place. Each one of our individual lives, things just fall into place, we never would have been here if Dr. Wang hadn’t started the Radiation Center, right?
KM Yeah. I’m going to need to learn more about him.
RS Yeah that’s right and the, will you have a chance to talk to Mrs. Wang?
KM Is she going to be here tonight?
RS Oh, I’m sure she’ll be here at the dinner, at the dinner.
KM At five-thirty?
RS But I don’t know if she would want to but, see she’s a gracious lady, very gracious lady, yeah.
KM How long has…
RS When did he die? How many years ago?
KM Apparently Dr. Wang died three years ago.
RS Three years, yeah.
KM Which is a big loss.
RS Yeah, he would be let’s see, he was born in 1917.
RS Yeah, so he would be ninety-two. Yeah he’d be ninety-two, yeah.
KM And he was, he stayed in Corvallis, right?
RS Yes. He could’ve gone other places but he, I think he enjoyed…first of all, when he come from China, which is World War II, and he knew where he was going, had good friends, for example Popovich.
KM Milosh? Milosh Popovich?
RS Popovich, right. He was the essentially the president’s chief of financial affairs. And he and Popi used to go fishing all the time. Yeah, they’re very good friends. He would tell me many times of his trips that they would have once a year or twice a year they would go on this place and that place fishing.
KM Oh wow.
RS Yeah. And he interacted with the, it’s very interesting, he interacted with the university’s chiefs if you will, ones higher up very easily because I think that shows you something: he respected them and they respected him. And he did his homework, in other words, when he outlined something, it was thoroughly outlined and that’s important. If anyone, the provost or anyone was going to make a decision you had better do your, be ready for all questions regarding the project that you’re working on and so he did that.
KM And he knew how to socialize. He had his background and he knew how to socialize.
RS Yes, I know for example, I went to his house a couple of times for dinner and he had people that would interact with each other. Yes. Perfect mix in all things. Some people had difficulty understanding him, I never did. He was very clear to me, you know, his expressions. I guess maybe that’s because you’re seeing a person enough you know, comes from a different country. That’s all about him, really as far as I’m concerned it’s all about him. The nuclear engineering department just wouldn’t be here if he had not conceived the idea and envisioned it and formulated it and got the right people to start it and just let it flower. So when you extrapolate in the future, when you get into an organization like that and do that it’s tough. You have to, I think, try to emulate somebody, but you have to do it in your own way in your own circumstances.
KM And what I hear is basically it’s good to let people grow and grow sometimes on their own terms and that’s, this is what he did very well.
KM It’s like, you know, within the parameters of the budget, which is always a big consideration in Oregon, just see where you want to go.
RS That’s right.
KM That’s, I know how important that is.
RS Bring the right individuals in, the right individuals to make it grow, yeah.
KM Thank you for talking with me.
KM This concludes the interview with Dr. Schmitt, and thank you.
RS It’s a pleasure.
KM I’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned a lot.