AVS Historical Persons | Fred Dylla - 2010

Fred Dylla - 2010

Oral History Interview with Fred Dylla

Interviewed by Paul Holloway, October 18, 2010
 So Fred Dylla, give us your place of birth and date of birth, please.

DYLLA: I was born on March 17, 1949 in Atlanta, Georgia.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, a Georgia boy.

DYLLA: Georgia. How about that? I don’t sound it, do I?

HOLLOWAY: No, you don’t!

DYLLA: That’s what growing up in New Jersey and going to school in New England will do to a Georgia accent.

HOLLOWAY: Okay. Well, my name is Paul Holloway. I’m a member of the AVS History Committee. We’re here to interview today a person of historical note, Dr. Fred Dylla. Today is Monday, October 18, 2010, and we’re at the 57th International Symposium of the AVS in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So, Fred, thanks very much for agreeing to do the interview.

DYLLA: Thank you, Paul. I’m happy to do this. As you know, I have always felt AVS to be one of the most useful scientific organizations. AVS, although perhaps not generally known, has certainly been the most valuable professional association for me in my career.

HOLLOWAY: I think it’s been a valuable association for a large number of people, so you’re not alone in that crowd. Could you give us something about your educational background—where you got your degrees and mentors?

DYLLA: Well, probably like you, Paul, I was a Sputnik kid—grew up in the ‘50s and got fascinated by all types of science.

HOLLOWAY: Absolutely.

DYLLA: But when the first satellites went up, I was just amazed by them and couldn’t learn enough. Like many of us Sputnik kids, I built rockets and built telescopes and thought I wanted to do something in astronomy. But something else happened at the end of that decade, and we’re celebrating its 50th anniversary this year: the invention of the laser. I read a Popular Science article—I remember the title, “The Incredible Ruby Ray”—and I decided right then and there (I was about 11 years old) that I was going to build a laser. I found that it was actually beyond the means of a young teenager’s allowance to build a ruby laser. You needed to have a cigarette-sized ruby crystal that in those days went for $1,000, and then you needed high intensity flash lamps. I learned this by reading as much as I could. Then I went on a campaign to try to fund my project, so I started writing letters to every company that I found that was actually working on lasers. After the invention of the laser (Bell Labs was intimately involved), I was living in New Jersey at the time; that’s where I essentially grew up. I wrote to Bell Labs. I wrote to RCA, whose labs and numerous engineering facilities are in New Jersey. I probably wrote to 20 companies. Unfortunately, I don’t have copies of the letters I sent. I do have copies of most of the letters that I received, and it’s surprising to me, 50 years later, how cooperative most of these companies were. Most of the letters were answered.

HOLLOWAY: That’s remarkable.

DYLLA: And in fact, from the Engineering Research Center in Camden, New Jersey from RCA, which was the home of the original RCA Victrola plant, an engineer wrote me back and said, “You sound like an interesting young man. Why don’t you come visit us, and we’ll talk about your desires to learn more about lasers.” It led to a visit. They showed me all around their lab: they showed me what they were doing, and I left with a ruby crystal that they said I could have as long as I wanted, as long as I was doing productive work with it, and I still have it.

HOLLOWAY: Are you still doing productive work with it? [Laughter]

DYLLA: Well, that’s yet to be proven. So that launched me on a four-year venture to make lasers. They were increasingly sophisticated. The first one, ”Mark I”, was the most unsophisticated, of course. The ruby crystal was suspended along the axis of a large V8 tomato juice can, and it was rimmed by large M60 flashbulbs—the kind that the old photographers used to have. I actually got it to lase, but one shot required my entire allowance for the flash bulbs. I decided that this wouldn’t scale and went on to try to find flash lamps. I found one in an army surplus store. It was a spiral one, and I made a little more sophisticated cavity out of an aluminum box. I also by that time had gotten a loan of another laser crystal, calcium tungstate, and so I had two kinds of lasers. I was playing tricks with those, the usual things that were often shown to the public: that a red laser beam could burn the black type off white paper, or pop a blue balloon but not a red balloon. These weren’t terribly scientific in my mind; I wanted to do some science with it. I ended up doing some biology. I was wondering, since laser light was quite different than normal light because you could focus it down and it was very spectrally narrow — it had a lot of power in a short wavelength range—that it might have some different biological effects. By taking the bus from my little town in New Jersey into Philadelphia and camping out at the Franklin Institute, I pored over books on the effects of light on biological materials, and learned about something called photodynamic action. If a biological material, a plant or animal cell, had a light-absorbing molecule, we would call it a dye. You could actually couple energy into the system by letting the dye absorb the light, and then you could apparently make excited forms of oxygen, and that had biological effects. So I ended up mounting the laser over a microscope that I had somehow found. I lived on a small pond and got some frog eggs that I dyed in methylene blue. Blue dye would absorb red light, and of course I did controls with frog eggs that were dyed but not shown the laser light and I managed to kill everything, including the controls. So I decided that I might be on the way for a good career in physics or engineering, but I was a lousy biologist. I didn’t give up. The next year I actually made my most sophisticated laser. My letter writing campaign continued, and I was given a rejected linear flash lamp from EG&G, which was the original company that Professor Edgerton at MIT, the inventor of the strobe light, founded; and you know it well from EG&G’s work with Sandia. They found a reject. Again, these were sort of $1,000 lamps at the time, and they sent it to me and they said, “It doesn’t quite meet spec, but it will probably be fine for what you want to do.” I had learned that the most efficient lasers put a linear lamp at one focus of an elliptical cavity, and you put the crystal at the second focus. Fortunately, there was a salesman for Reynolds Aluminum in my town, and he found me a block of aluminum. I convinced my shop teacher in high school to help me machine an elliptical cavity by tilting a fly cutter on a lathe.

HOLLOWAY: Remarkable!

DYLLA: So that was “Mark III”, and I am now a freshman in high school. I used the laser on onion roots. If you go through your biology textbook, the classic pictures of nuclei in plant cells are from onion root tips, because they’re very large. I grew some in the dyed solution and then hit half the onion root tips with the laser and half were controls. Now that experiment turned out a little better. It turns out any onion that I had zapped would grow about 50% faster. So I felt I had actually shown some photodynamic action. I could not prove that it was a potential mutation because you’d have to trace it through generations of onions, and I didn’t have the patience for that. I was more interested in the laser. But that whole experience, about three years of learning how to build a laser and measure its power and do something with it, convinced me that I was going to be a physicist. I never wavered from the time I was eleven that I was going to be a physicist.

HOLLOWAY: That’s remarkable.

DYLLA: Maybe you have gotten from my story that I was in a part of New Jersey that is unlike most people’s perception of New Jersey. I was in southern New Jersey, fairly rural, and attended the second oldest high school in the county, and if I wanted to take courses on wheat, corn, and barley, there were plenty of them. But after my sophomore year, I was pretty well bored. Luckily, I had good science teachers, biology and chemistry—not physics; I had a terrible physics teacher! But by the end of my sophomore year, I had exhausted the three science courses, and they let me play hooky and take the bus into Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. I spent most of my junior year in the Franklin Institute. I then basically dropped out and tried to get into a college, and it was too late in the year to go where I wanted to go. Having grown up in New Jersey, I wanted to go to Princeton, the home of Einstein. Why would I not want to go there? They were polite. They said, “Listen, kid. You haven’t even taken any of the exams. Take the exams. Come back next year when you’re a senior and we’ll look at you.” But I called 50 schools, at my father’s suggestion, and of the 50, three said, “Well, you sound like a precocious youngster. Why don’t you come talk to us?” and those three were NYU, Carnegie, and Lehigh. They all three let me in, and I, for some reason, chose Lehigh; I don’t know why. I don’t remember what attracted me. I ended up my senior year of high school going to Lehigh. After a year at Lehigh, I got my GED. I do have a high school diploma. [Laughter]

HOLLOWAY: [Laughs] You’re a high school graduate!

DYLLA: I am a high school graduate. At Lehigh, as a physics major, I rapidly found that I didn’t really want to spend my undergraduate years there. This was 1966, it was a time that physics education at the undergraduate level was being…well, “revolutionized” is too strong a word. Let’s say there were textbooks that had been written by well-known physics professors that had been around a long time! MIT was developing a new course, Berkeley was developing a new course, and of course Richard Feynman had his famous Caltech course out. Lehigh was teaching first-year physics out of Sears and Zemansky. I said, “This is old. This is boring.” In the middle of the year, I decided to transfer, and I sent an application to Princeton. My father said, “You should send an application somewhere else. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and he suggested I send one to MIT. So I had interviews at both places, and the interview at Princeton was bizarre. The interviewer decided that I would be better off at MIT, that I didn’t fit the Fitzgerald mold of a Princetonian. So I got up and said, “I think you’re right. Goodbye.” I ended up going to MIT as a sophomore, and then spent nine years there getting a Bachelor’s,Master’s and a PhD, all in physics. I found a remarkable mentor, a real gentleman by the name of John King. He’s best known for what he does for science education. He was a molecular beamist. He was involved in the ‘50s in building the first atomic clocks. But he felt that any scientist worth his or her salt could be an expert on anything after five years of intense study. He liked to change his field of study every five years. So I, having earned three degrees there, as an undergraduate I did work on acoustics, and then as a master’s I did work in low temperature physics, and my PhD was in surface physics, and that was my introduction to AVS. I had the second Auger spectrometer at MIT.

HOLLOWAY: Is that right? What year was that?

DYLLA: 1971, and I had to build my own quadrupole mass spectrometer until I found enough money to buy a better one. Again, I had this nagging interest in biophysics. I was fascinated by the idea of being able to look at atoms on surfaces, and so surface physics to me was going to be my topic for my research. But I actually wanted to apply it to biological surfaces.

HOLLOWAY: You were ahead of your time.

DYLLA: Well, I wish I had stuck with it, seeing what we now do! I really wanted to be able to image proteins on a cell surface, which is largely a lipid bilayer, and it was just sort of obvious to me that this should be an easy thing to do. I was seeing what biologists were doing to look at biological materials at the time. Fortunately, MIT had started up a joint program with Harvard on health science, and there were remarkable professors teaching introductory biology to renegade physicists and chemists. I would look at how they would image something…they would freeze a biological material, microtome it into a thin slice, often have to infuse it with a heavy metal so that electrons had something heavy to scatter from it, and then hit it with a 50 kilovolt electron beam. Then, well, you’re looking at an artifact, not something biological, after all that treatment, whereas if you just put a cell surface in vacuum, the multi layers of water would probably desorb, leaving a bound layer of water right at the real surface, and it would be well bound to the protein because the protein was hydrophilic, and it shouldn’t stick at all to the lipid bilayer. If you could just sort of tickle the surface and desorb the water, you could use this very natural dye molecule to paint a picture of where proteins were and where they weren’t. So in concept it was a very simple idea. But it meant learning how to build a very low energy electron beam—low energy so that the electron would only interact with the first atomic layer. And of course this is where it was very sympathetic and overlapping with what was happening in surface physics at the time because, at first, Auger spectrometers used low energy electron beams so you could just excite atoms near the surface, and photoelectron spectroscopy involves similar principles. So I thought if I could just make a focusable kilovolt-like electron beam, scan it across the surface, and then collect the desorbing water molecules as either neutrals, since most of them would be neutral, but neutral detection is hard, or as ions, I could make a water map of a protein surface. I call this scanning desorption molecule microscopy. Professor John King brought in a group of us in 1970 and 1971 who were going to work on molecular microscopes. Some were doing thermal desorption; I was going to stick with electron desorption. And that was my introduction to AVS, because I went to my first meeting in 1971, which makes me a 40-year member next year.

HOLLOWAY: Congratulations!

DYLLA: Yes, and I’m very proud to be a member all those years. The meeting was in the Boston Convention Center, so a hop across the bridge from MIT. That’s where I met many of you for the first time, including gentlemen by the names of Ted Madey and John Yates. Unfortunately, we lost Ted last year. But Ted Madey and John Yates published, about in ’71, a review article on electron stimulated desorption.

HOLLOWAY: They were pioneers.

DYLLA: It was a wonderful article that I referred to for the next 30 years. I ended up occasionally calling them. They spent time with me on the telephone, and I didn’t get to go to many of the subsequent meetings of the AVS until ‘75, but I viewed both of them as early mentors in my career. Another one I met at the time was Jim Murday. He was just starting his career in the chemistry branch at NRL, and produced a large report comparing the then increasingly large alphabet soup of surface analysis techniques—AES, XPS, SIMS. It was growing even in the early ‘70s. I got to know Jim, and again, we have stayed close friends and collaborators ever since. I worked three years to try to build my scanning desorption molecule microscope and realized, probably from my assorted attempts with frog eggs and onion roots, that I should really work with a model biological system. If you go back to the first microscope, Anton Leeuwenhoek in the Netherlands, he looked at cork because it was inert and unchanging. With any new microscope technique or actually any spectroscopy, it’s nice to start with a model system that’s well characterized by another technique. So I thought about this and said, “What type of model of a patch of a hydrophilic material that would be protein-like in a sea of hydrophobic material would be lipid-like?” That’s when I went back to the roots of surface physics and chemistry to Langmuir and Blodgett and learned that you could cast single monolayers above hydrophilic and hydrophobic films. I ended up making a model surface. What I chose for the hydrophobic surface was just carbon, pure carbon, and what I chose for the hydrophilic was the very simplest protein analogue. It was one amino acid, polyglycemic acid, and you could get this and it was soluble, and I could cast it as a single monolayer. I deposited that on just a silicon substrate and then evaporated carbon through a grid. So I had this grid-like pattern of hydrophilic versus hydrophobic surfaces, and that became my model biological cell surface. I spent about three years building the apparatus…learning how to make the samples, and then trying to characterize low energy electron stimulated desorption off of these two materials.

HOLLOWAY: Primarily looking at water?

DYLLA: Primarily looking at desorbed water. I measured the cross sections, measured the energy dependence, but it was going to be clear to me that this work was pretty ambitious.

HOLLOWAY: You were looking at ion desorption?

DYLLA: I was collecting the ions with a mass spectrometer. I was also collecting the neutrals. I had a very high efficiency ionizer, and it turns out there was work done at the Research Lab of Electronics at MIT back in the ‘50s to make an ionizer that was 1% efficient. So I played around with designs for very high efficiency ionizers. I didn’t quite get those efficiencies, but I got in the few tenths of a percent. The typical efficiency on a mass spectrometer ionizer is a part in 106. But the ratio of the neutral cross section, and the ion cross section was about 1,000. So there really wasn’t a win. Of course my colleagues Madey and Yates went on to study neutral desorption and particularly angular distributions, and the neutral channel is very interesting. But this was spiraling out of control for me. I built the electron gun. I built the vacuum system. I built the mass spectrometer. I built the ionizer. I did not build the Auger spectrometer. But the rest of it was home brewed.

HOLLOWAY: You were using a retarding field or a cylindrical mirror analyzer (CMA)?

DYLLA: It was a CMA. It was quite an apparatus, and near my fourth year, I got recruited to come to Princeton as a post-doc to be their #2 surface physicist. My colleague at MIT, Sam Cohen, was #1.

HOLLOWAY: Is that right?

DYLLA: He left in late ‘74, early ‘75. And with Sam’s help, he interested the administration of Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in the fact that they really needed to get some people who knew material science and particularly surface physics. At the time, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab was growing at 40% per year because this was just after the first oil crisis and just after the Russians had introduced the concept of a tokomak to the worldwide fusion community. Fusion as an experimental science had been going on since the early ‘50s, and what you have to do in magnetic fusion is heat a vessel of ionized hydrogen isotopes to tens of kilovolts temperatures to a certain density for a certain time, and the various configurations at the time that would bottle hot plasma in a magnetically confined volume were off by a factor of almost 1011 in fusion conditions.

HOLLOWAY: Off a little bit!

DYLLA: If you take what’s now called the Lawson criteria, the required density, required temperature, required time, and the tokomak was showing temperatures of about 1,000 times higher in confinement times probably 10 to 100 times longer. So they had regained maybe a factor of 104- 105 on the energy break-even curve. The western fusion labs in the early ‘70s started turning to the tokomak type geometry and all started hiring physicists to characterize the plasma, its temperature, its density, its evolution. There’s no such thing as the perfect magnetic genie. There were lots of instabilities as you increased the temperature and density and with lots of experimental work, lots of theoretical work, but very little of it devoted to what happens when some fraction of the plasma hits the wall of a vessel. No such thing as perfect confinement. Hydrogen neutrals could escape, x-rays could escape, and there had to be desorption phenomena and sputtering phenomena because, as these devices were often started up cold from evacuating them from atmosphere, the plasmas weren’t hydrogenic. They were carbon, oxygen, and whatever metal the vacuum vessel was made out of. So Sam and I became the front line of a fairly large effort that grew in the US and across the world on plasma-surface interactions in controlled fusion, which is where I met you at Sandia because the experts in materials at Sandia became an integral part of the program.

HOLLOWAY: So what year did you finish your degree at MIT and move to Princeton?

DYLLA: In ’75. By the spring of ’75, I had an offer to show up at Princeton in September with a degree in my pocket as a post-doc, and in the spring of ’75 I was still trying to image desorbing water molecules from my model surface.

HOLLOWAY: [Laughs] Tenacious little guy, weren’t you?

DYLLA: [Laughs] Yeah! I was getting some crude images, but I realized that I could not turn this into a thesis that I would be proud of. I didn’t want it just to be a machine-building project. I wanted to show some science. So in June 1975, less than three months before my deadline, I started all over using the same apparatus studying a much more well-controlled surface than even my model biological surface, the silicon (111) surface.

HOLLOWAY: [Laughs] Is that right?!

DYLLA: Yeah, and I had another mentor at the time. My thesis advisor John King was on sabbatical at Dalhousie University, so I had run into Mark Cardillo, who was doing a post-doc in Bob Stickney’s group in mechanical engineering, and he did a beautiful study, that is still classic, on the oxides of tungsten; a mass spectroscopy study. He got interested in my problem, and he became my mentor on a study of desorbing carbon monoxide and water from a silicon (111). It turns out that we uncovered a very interesting problem. A CO molecule, if there is any hint of a stray electron or a hot filament in a vacuum system—and of course any vacuum system has an ion gauge and maybe an ion pump and the instrumentation—a CO molecule will become activated, and it sits on the surface in some adsorbed state. You can see it with Auger spectroscopy, and thermally desorb it. If you forbid that activation step, the CO molecule tunnels into the silicon and is hidden from any surface spectroscopy, a monolayer’s worth. This was entirely baffling until we figured it out. We ended up writing a paper for the journal Surface Science, Mark and I, and we had some help from Bell Labs. It turns out we had theorized that the CO just tunnels into the surface, and that’s why you can’t see it with a surface spectroscopy. If you heat it up, you get the monolayer back out, and I did quantitative thermal desorption to prove it. A colleague at Bell Labs, Len Feldman, using ion beam spectroscopy, showed the missing monolayer deep in the silicon. I started this experiment in the middle of June. By the middle of July I said, “I’d better call it quits,” and for ten days I wrote. I had my thesis defense the last day of August, and packed up my little Dodge Dart and went to Princeton and started my post-doc.

HOLLOWAY: You were now reeducated by MIT so you were appropriate for a Princeton position, huh?

DYLLA: That’s right. That’s right. [Laughter] Now, my first week there, I went back to the admissions office to see if I could find this fellow that I had this very strange interview with, and luckily he wasn’t there because I wasn’t sure what I was going to tell him. I found him so rude that, on one hand, I was going to punch him in the nose, and on the other hand, I was going to thank him for sending me to MIT because I had a fantastic education at MIT. It’s still pretty much that way…MIT is not what you would call the lovely ivy-covered campus. It is a sea of buildings—probably more than 100—but they’re all connected through tunnels or gangways, and in the middle of the night when you’re a graduate student and you’ve burned out a filament, you can go down and find someone who’s got a roll of tungsten wire or roll over to the chemistry wing and get some sulfuric acid or run into electrical engineering and get a 10K resistor. There were always graduate students working all times of night. It was a real camaraderie I’ve not seen at any other campus because the buildings aren’t connected. When I look back at those years, they were the most satisfying years of my career. And I remember Ray Weiss, who is very famous now because his work led to the LIGO laser interferometer gravity wave observatories, and to the COBE satellites that uncovered the microwave background. Remarkable physicist. He was also a mentor, and he found me in the lab late one night, and I probably had just burned out the filament of one of my instruments the third time in a row and I must have looked like hell. He came up to me and he threw his arm around me and he said, “You’re going to look back at these years as the best years of your life,” and I looked at him like he was crazy. But I now know exactly what he meant, because in those days as a graduate student I had complete control over my little corner of science. I got to design the experiment, build the experiment, do the experiment, analyze the data, defend it, market it, and I was doing one single thing, and nowhere in a scientific life after that do you have that privilege where you can concentrate on one thing.

HOLLOWAY: That’s right. Exactly.

DYLLA: And that’s exactly what he meant. So you’ve gotten me to Princeton, and this is where my involvement with AVS really kicked up because now I could go to your annual meetings. I started in 1975, and, until last year when I had an overriding commitment from my present position at AIP that I just couldn’t undo, I hadn’t missed an AVS Symposium in 34 years.

HOLLOWAY: That has to be a remarkable track record.

DYLLA: And still, I’m glad I’m here at this one. The reason I say that I’ve valued the AVS is that a good fraction of my professional colleagues that I’ve met in the three different stages in my career in science have come from meeting folks at AVS meetings or learning about them in the journal Vacuum Science and Technology or Surface Science, and just picking up the phone. In those days you had to pick up the phone, you know? You wouldn’t write a letter, couldn’t fax…

HOLLOWAY: E-mail didn’t exist.

DYLLA: …so the way you met someone was at a meeting or you found their phone number and dialed them up. I’ve never counted, but I probably have on the order of 100 good colleagues from my 40 years of AVS that I’ve learned from, shared volunteer activities here in the AVS—running a meeting, running a committee, serving in the presidential chain for three years, serving on the Board twice. So you get to meet these people in your volunteer activities here and you get to meet them and interact with them professionally as colleagues. I sum that set of interactions as being more important than any other professional society that I’ve been involved with, and I’ve been members of two or three and active in two or three others. But they all pale in comparison to the friends, and I say friends, and professional colleagues that I’ve made in the 40 years I’ve been associated with AVS.

HOLLOWAY: Well, AVS is a remarkable organization. You get to appreciate people that are good scientists but are good human beings at the same time.

DYLLA: That’s right, that’s right. So starting as a young post-doc, I think that first year that I was a post-doc in ‘75 I registered for the AVS Fall Symposium in September. I didn’t have a paper that first year because I’d only been there two months. But from ‘76 well into probably the early 2000s I had my name on a paper at this meeting, and a good fraction of my career was in JVST. That overlapped…I don’t know how I would count these things. Certainly my work in basic surface physics from my graduate work was one part of my career, and then launching into plasma surface interactions for the US and international magnetic fusion community, we saw AVS as an important home for that community. So I got involved with Manfred Kaminsky who was at Argonne, and a couple of your colleagues at Sandia, and in 1978, I believe, we had our first discussions about forming the Fusion Technology Division. This brought together two communities that did not have a home: the plasma surface interaction community for magnetic fusion and also the target development community for inertial fusion, making these very sophisticated glass spheres that had high pressure deuterium and tritium and many overlapping containment layers. It was a thin film problem, and both of those communities were brought into AVS, and from the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s had many annual sessions and many articles that were put into the JVST, and topical conferences that we ran and put into the topical conference series. That introduced me to the fact that AVS is really volunteer-driven. Being at Princeton, a remarkable professor by the name of Peter Mark in the Electrical Engineering school introduced me to the volunteer aspect of AVS, that you just don’t show up and give a talk—you know, join a committee and do something. And he took me into New York to the old AIP/AVS offices across from the UN, and I sat through my first program committee meeting as a volunteer, I think in ‘77 or ‘78.

HOLLOWAY: You were remarkably young!

DYLLA: Yes, I was, and I think they mostly ignored me because who’s this kid back here?

HOLLOWAY: I doubt they ignored you very effectively! [Laughter]

DYLLA: But from that point on, I was serving on some AVS activity. Until I took the job at AIP three and a half years ago, I was always on some committee, and I cycled through most of them. I owe you for getting me involved with the Strategic Planning Committee at a god-awful location at some motel in the Newark airport.

HOLLOWAY: We didn’t waste a lot of time—flew in, touched the ground, and then took off again.

DYLLA: Yes. But it was all business. But from that, I think you also got me nominated as a prospective Program Chair, and of course Joe Green did too, and I think one of the toughest but most rewarding jobs is to be a program chair. So for 1989, I was still at Princeton and of course it was ‘87 when you get tapped for this. I became Program Chair for the meeting that would be in Boston; Joe Green was the President at the time, and that’s when you really get to meet a lot of people from the whole diverse range of topics that make up AVS, because when you run a program that has over 1,000 talks with even the number of divisions we had then, you learn to broaden your view of science and you learn to be a diplomat because of all the jockeying that goes for primetime and scheduling. Then again, this was pre-email and so a lot of people had fax machines. It was right on the cusp of an entirely paper-driven activity. I spent from 1975 to1990, the second stage of my career, in the plasma side of things at Princeton, increasingly getting involved with AVS. In the middle of that period, I put my stamp on two things. Learning how to instrument these very large vacuum systems required a lot of development of vacuum technology, vacuum instrumentation, and I realized that we didn’t have vacuum standards for high vacuum. There was no such thing as the standard torr. You have a standard light bulb and standard kilogram and standard meter, but no standard torr existed from atmospheric pressure down to sort of the millitorr range. So I worked with the National Bureau of Standards, which is before they had changed their name to NIST, and we put together, with some funding from the Department of Energy, some working groups on the development of high vacuum standards. That led to a working group that got encapsulated by our Recommended Practices Committee. Before we had recommended practices, we had dying standards! No one wanted to touch a standard because of legal liabilities. We reformed that set of folks into drafters of recommended practices and that insulated us from the liabilities of standards and we put together recommended practices groups on high vacuum standards.

HOLLOWAY: Who did you work with at NIST in that?

DYLLA: Charlie Tilford. He ran the vacuum group at the time with Pat Looney. Those are two of the principles, and that was my first real involvement with Paul Redhead. This is after Paul’s retirement from NRC in Canada. He helped me put together some real analysis of how well spinning rotor gauges work, and the question “could they be used for high vacuum standards?” The answer is basically yes. We worked with two companies that built spinning rotor gauges, and now since the mid-’80s they’re out there. We’re overlooking the AVS exhibit where you can buy them, and set this up as the best you could do for high vacuum standards. My interactions with Paul grew. He gave a wonderful paper on various modes of a pure electron plasma, which is what you have in a magnetron type device, and theorized that there would be some characteristic of pure electron plasmas that would actually rotate, so-called diacotron modes. They seem to have several other properties that were dependent on the absolute neutral density mathematically. Again, with his mentorship, I attracted a young graduate student from Princeton Plasma Physics, David Moore, and he went on to study the use of diacotron modes in pure electron plasmas as an absolute vacuum standard in the high vacuum range. His thesis work was remarkable. He was also remarkable in that he survived three thesis advisors. I left him in a lurch. He had built his apparatus under my guidance and Paul’s guidance, had started to get data, and then I accepted a job at what was then called CEBAF, later Jefferson Lab, in 1990. Then I attracted my long friend and colleague Dennis Manos from Princeton to come down and head up the applied science program at the College of William and Mary, which was the nearest university to Jefferson Lab. Dennis was David Moore’s second thesis advisor, so he lost the second one. Then Ron Davidson, who was then the director of Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, became his third and final thesis advisor, and, it turns out, the best, because he’s one of the world’s experts on pure electron plasmas. But David has an amusing tale to tell about his first and second thesis advisors! But that experience in the ‘80s, I think, a group of us at AVS left the vacuum science and technology community with instruments and theoretical backup for vacuum standards. And they were absolutely essential for the fusion program because we had to quantify how much hydrogen was going in and out of our plasmas and what were the levels of the impurities, and, you know, getting the answer to 100% when you’re dealing with tritium was not viable. So we really felt the need for vacuum standards that went from the modest vacuum range down through ultra high vacuum. I think the other thing that I had a part in was the fact that the Fusion Division, by the mid-’80s was the wrong name. People giving papers there were studying how plasmas and the energetic particles that a plasma can make were interacting with materials. It didn’t matter if it was the wall of a tokamac. It could very easily be a silicon wafer or the wall of a sputtering device. And so, with the help of a lot of my colleagues in your divisions—the Electronic Materials Processing and Thin Films divisions—we renamed the Fusion Technology Division (I forget the precise year…some time in the mid-’80s) to the Plasma Science and Technology Division1.

HOLLOWAY: That was a major transformation and very significant for the Society.

DYLLA: I think it really boosted the Society’s name and particularly within the electronic materials community because we became the home with the likes of people like John Colburn and Harold Winters. If you wanted to learn about plasma etching, and if you wanted to learn about some of the new techniques to characterize the plasma and plasma surface interactions that would be of use for materials processing, you had to come to the AVS. It was clear from the late ‘70s that AVS was doing a lot of this. But by having a division where its focus was, that focus and division are still going strong. I think it strengthened both activities. For those that came from the materials processing side, they learned that fusion people were using cyclotron resonance to make very low energy plasmas that could be very useful for minimizing damage on substrates, and that they could import diagnostics that we had spent a lot of money perfecting, like Langmuir probes and surface probes. On the other side, the fusion people were introduced into a whole cohort of people who were trying to characterize, both experimentally and theoretically, the interactions of a very complicated fluid, a plasma, with a material. It was a very vibrant collaboration and still remains. By the time I got to the late ‘80s, I had worked on the Topical Conference Committee and Program Committees and chaired the Program Committee, and I probably had served on a few other things. AVS was just a very important part of my life. By the time the late ‘80s happened, I was approaching my next career change, and I got recruited to go down to a brand new DOE laboratory that was being built in Newport News, Virginia. It was then called CEBAF, an ugly government acronym for Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. I hated the name because it would get bastardized into CEBASS or CEBARF, and, you know, what could you do with this name? I’ll tell you about that in a little bit, how it got its better name. CEBAF had a remarkable director, Hermann Grunder, who, prior to being recruited by the governor of Virginia to be Director of this lab, was the Associate Director for both fusion and accelerators at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. He is a Swiss-American, has remarkable administrative talents, and is a very good engineer on top of being a physicist. He was recruited by the governor of Virginia to run this new electron accelerator lab that got its first funding in ‘86. When he got there, he took one look at the technology that was going to be used to build this accelerator for the nuclear physics community. The nuclear physics community wanted a high duty factor, a very high current electron beam—high current so that you could get a lot of interactions with the nucleus and improve your data rate—but very precisely controlled in what we call emittance, which is the beam quality, same term as in optics. In the sort of 2-4 billion volt range. At that energy, the electron de Broglie wavelength is about one-tenth of the nuclear diameter, so you can look inside the nucleus. This was going to be called the National Electron Accelerator Laboratory—nice name—and of course anytime the government advertises a pending new laboratory, universities, groups of universities, national labs, and companies come out of the woodwork and make proposals. There were proposals from the traditional places that build accelerators, like Argonne National Lab. MIT runs an electron accelerator. NIST had one, and for three rounds of peer reviews in a row, a small collaboration out of the University of Virginia kept winning the proposals. In the end, a presidential panel chaired by Allen Bromley, who became Bush number one’s science advisor, chaired a panel that said, “The Virginia consortium has the best proposal and best technology. They should build this accelerator.” But they also had a secondary caution. They said, “This is going to be a national lab. A single university cannot build and operate this on behalf of all the users, nationally and internationally.” So the University of Virginia was directed to “Go thou consort.” The University of Virginia and College of William and Mary and Virginia State formed SURA in the early ‘80s to run through this proposal process. By the time of the proposal decision, I think there was something like 13 or 14 universities in SURA, all the research universities in Virginia, but they reached up to the Washington area universities and Maryland universities; Delaware, that was the end of what they called ‘the south’. SURA stood for Southeastern Universities Research Association. And down through Florida, your institution2, Paul, is part of SURA, and west to Texas. It’s now some 60 universities. Its first project was to pull together the staff, attract an experienced, recognized director that could build this accelerator and a laboratory around it, and then operate it. Tall order! Luckily, they found Hermann Grunder; he came in ‘86. He brought some of his colleagues from Berkeley who knew how to build accelerators, and then he tried to attract the best of various scientists and engineers from the accelerator community, Fermilab, Brookhaven, so forth, to put this laboratory together. He happened to be on the Princeton visiting committee in 1989, and he knew of me because of my work in fusion, and he said, “You know, you ought to come down and visit us in Virginia.” Little did I know what that meant. It turns out I had my interview experience, which was five separate trips to Virginia, because again, much like my experience as a graduate student jumping into biology, I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole. Same at Princeton. I was a surface physicist surrounded by plasma physicists. So now I was going to be whatever I was at that time going down to an accelerator laboratory that was going to do nuclear physics. I knew something about the technology of accelerators, especially from the vacuum side of it, but I couldn’t be characterized as either an accelerator physicist or a nuclear physicist. But Hermann wanted to hire me. He said, “I need somebody like you that isn’t afraid of doing something different.” And he did not want to build and put into operation a brand new national laboratory that was going to be dedicated to one type of science. Now, he knew he didn’t have the charter to form a new multi-purpose lab like Sandia or Brookhaven or Argonne, but he also felt that it should have what he called a derivative mission. Different science, but focused on the same technology so that you could take advantage of that. So I ended up leaving Princeton in September 1990, joining with a very innocuous title. I think my first title was Associate Program Manager for the Accelerator Division. I left Princeton and showed up with this somewhat unclear title at Jefferson Lab in the fall of 1990. Hermann wanted me to work with one other physicist there, a fellow by the name of George Neil, who was an expert in free electron lasers, and a couple of the other accelerator physicists and see if I could put together a proposal to some arm of the US government and to some corporate R&D folks to build a free electron laser that would have application to the science and technologies of materials processing with light. So here I am 30 years later back with lasers, okay? [Laughter] That fascinated me. I spent about the first nine months there learning all I could about free electron lasers, and we put some proposals together on how we could take the accelerator technology at Jefferson Lab and make a kilowatt-class free electron laser. Now, lasers that everyone knows about are the laser pointer, and lasers you see in the lab that use solids, gasses or liquids. It’s difficult to scale them in power because there’s no such thing as a perfectly efficient electricity to light conversion in any laser medium. So what isn’t converted to light is converted to heat and you have to take the heat out. A free electron laser, you are extracting light from forcing an electron beam to go through a varying magnetic field, and so you’re extracting photons right from the electron beam in vacuum. The remaining power is on the electron beam leaving at near the speed of light. So you solve the heat problem. This, of course, was well known as a construct when free electron lasers were first talked about and first invented by John Madey at Stanford in ‘76. In the ‘80s, the so-called Star Wars program was going to take early versions of free electron lasers that had generated a watt, and they were going to scale them up to a megawatt in one fell swoop. Never a good idea in any program to say that you can jump a factor of one million, right? [Laughter] So, for a variety of reasons, the investments that were made in the ‘80s by the US government to make high power free electron lasers failed to make a high power free electron laser. They succeeded in training a lot of physicists and engineers in the associated technology, particularly electron guns and optics. Now we show up trying to pedal this same technology to folks. Can you imagine knocking on a door saying, “I’m from a government lab. I want to build a big laser,” and the reaction to that? The door is slammed in your face. But the difference that we had to try to promote to folks is that the Department of Energy under its nuclear physics program was building a megawatt class electron beam in Newport News for basic nuclear physics. The technology was being designed, tested, built, and operated for another application. So we could graft. We could take the accelerator technology from the nuclear physics community and the magnetic undulator technology that had been developed in parallel by the X-ray light source community, which had bloomed in the ‘80s with big light sources being built at Brookhaven and Argonne and Berkeley and across the world. Marry those two technologies, and we thought we could easily produce a kilowatt. My first year there with George Neil’s help and a few other people, we put together a proposal to make a kilowatt class free electron laser that would be tunable from the mid-infrared to the UV, and we were going to do this for $25 million. When we told people about this, they said, “Well, didn’t the government just spend $1 billion on free electron lasers and has nothing to show for it? Aren’t there 50 free electron lasers around the world and half of them don’t work?”

HOLLOWAY: You had a long uphill battle.

DYLLA: There was a bit of an activation barrier! Well, my career at Jlab took an interesting turn, because nine months into my position there I got a call from Hermann Grunder and he said, “You’re in charge of building the accelerator.” The accelerating components were these somewhat complicated superconducting radio frequency cavities. They’re about one meter long. They’re pure niobium. You surround them with a cryostat to cool them to 2K, with super fluid helium, and then it has to go into a vacuum cryostat to keep everything at 2K, and the original cavity had 22 joints that had to be both ultra high vacuum and super fluid tight. The CEBAF accelerator had 40 of these large cryostats with 330 of these cavities. So you start doing the mathematics; one cryostat completed was about 10 meters long. It was about $2 million worth of hardware. And if you had a leaking joint deep within the cryostat afterwards, it cost you a good fraction of that $2 million to take it apart and fix it. So in June 1991 when I got the call, I was told, “Well, we can’t make these things. They’re not leak tight and they’re radio frequency cavities.” It turns out you have to damp out some higher order modes. The damping structure was a ceramic that was made for this ultra high vacuum low temperature environment. It turns out at 2K, it went superconducting, so it was no longer a resistor and the essential component was missing! And then the ceramic windows that bring in the microwaves were leaking. So with my pedigree in the American Vacuum Society and big vacuum systems in the fusion community, I was tapped as “Well, you certainly can solve these little leaks.”

HOLLOWAY: Minor problem!

DYLLA: Minor problem. So I was given the job over the weekend, and two weeks later was a major six-month review of the CEBAF accelerator program.

HOLLOWAY: [Laughs] They gave you a lot of time!

DYLLA: And all 42 of these cryostat units, some $100 million worth of hardware, had to be delivered in two years, and we had not made one successfully yet. I had two weeks to tell the Department of Energy and its peer reviewers what I was going to do about that. So look, I’m still pretty young, okay; I was 41. Now I’m in front of this table of 20 reviewers, 20 DOE bureaucrats, the colleagues who had been working hard on this project for four years, and I had to tell them what I was going to do. Luckily with my experience from being an AVS member, standing up in front of friendly-to-hostile audiences, I could get up and say, “Look, vacuum leaks don’t bother me. This is a solvable technical problem.” I somehow got through the review.

HOLLOWAY: Without getting shot!

DYLLA: Without getting shot, and a week later I shut down the whole program. I said, “I’m going to shut it down until the next review,” which was six months later, “and we’re going to solve these problems by then.” When DOE heard I had shut down the production line, they were furious. I had to send them a weekly report on how I was doing solving all the problems to get production back on track. After two months of the weekly reports, they said, “Okay, forget it. We’ll wait till six months.” But this was again an experience in my life where all my colleagues at the AVS gave me a tremendous number of contacts to help solve this problem, because I basically took the whole team and matched physicists with engineers on niobium-tin surface problems, or superfluid leaks, or the instrumentation for looking at leaks at very low temperatures, or how you make leak-free ceramics, and ceramic to metal welds, or the RF characteristics of these RF absorbers. I had contacts all through the AVS for all of these problems. Brought them in, and three months into this experience, we started up the assembly line practicing. A week before the next six-month review, we went into production. So I could get up then and say, “Here’s how we solved this problem. We tested it. Here’s the evidence that shows us the problem is solved.” Did it for all three problems, and we hit the starting gate, and for the next two years we made all 40 cryostats, and we finished the linear accelerator (LINAC) just before Christmas in ’93—ten days ahead of schedule and about $500,000 under budget.

HOLLOWAY: Fantastic!

DYLLA: So I could now call myself an accelerator physicist because I had built an accelerator. But this was all part of Hermann’s grand plan, because he knew that I was going to be out there trying to sell this technology, and who was I, this plasma physicist from Princeton? What did I know about this superconducting accelerator technology? After that two years, I knew it top to bottom, and we went back into the FEL3 proposal writing business. But I should tell you, in that period from ‘91-’93 where my day job was learning how to build the accelerator, that was the year I was elected AVS President.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, you had a night job, then!

DYLLA: So in ‘91 I was President-Elect elect. In ‘92 I was President-Elect serving with Jim Murday, and ‘93, I was the President. Now, ‘92-’93, that was when we had to decide whether we were going to uproot our New York staff members from New York and move with AIP who was moving their headquarters from Manhattan to College Park, MD.

HOLLOWAY: That was a big, critical decision.

DYLLA: That was a big decision, and luckily I had a lot of help. Rey Whetten just joined us as our executive director, and he turned out to have marvelous real estate skills. He found that the City of New York did not want to see non-profits leave. Rey arranged for a 15-year lease on 32 Wall Street, fantastic address overlooking the East River. I think our opening rent was $15/sq ft.

HOLLOWAY: Wow, that’s remarkable.

DYLLA: And we had a small escalator4 for the next 15 years, and it was a fantastic office. More importantly, it meant that our staff members, half of whom were Yankees fans and half of whom were Mets fans—there was no way they were moving to the Washington area—could stay. That was also when we hired Yvonne Towse. I think if I were to top a list of what I did for AVS, it would be working with Jim (Murday) to hire Yvonne. [Laughter]

HOLLOWAY: Your single milestone accomplishment. [Laughter]

DYLLA: By the time I was well into my year as President, we were moving into our new offices, and we had a new office manager. I was also at that time the AVS representative to the AIP Governing Board. So I listened to all the rancorous debate on whether AIP should leave Manhattan and why did they choose College Park; and of course AVS was one of the societies that decided to stay. The American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers joined AIP to move to its building in College Park. But that was my first introduction to the fact that AIP was our publisher. I really didn’t understand what publishing meant at that time. I knew it as an author, as a reviewer. I knew it as a Board member on AVS because I’d been on and off the Board: my first stint was in the early ‘80s and my second stint was as the presidential line, ‘92-’94. I saw AIP as doing the mechanics of our publishing. I saw them very helpful with our staff support for our New York staff. They were our HR department. But I really didn’t understand what they did and was sort of mystified by the bills we would get from AIP. They were unintelligible. [Laughter]

HOLLOWAY: To put it kindly, huh?

DYLLA: That’s right. So I had a great time as AVS President. The ‘93 Symposium was in Orlando. Since all good colleagues do another a good turn, just as you tapped me to be Program Chair in ‘89, I tapped my good friend Dennis Manos to be my deputy program chair in 1989 and as Program Chair when I was President for our meeting in ‘93. You know, as Program Chair, it’s a tremendous amount of work. I felt, as an unpaid volunteer we should at least be able to make one decision as Program Chair other than this trying to be the master diplomat for all the divisions and topical groups fighting for primetime. The one decision that seemed to be allowed for the Program Chair was to choose the plenary speaker. Dennis and I scratched our heads and we said, “Who do we really want to hear?” One of my heroes at the time was James Burke, who had done two fantastic series for PBS—one called “Connections” and one called “The Day the Universe Changed.” It turns out he’s not a scientist. He is an Italian literature major from Oxford. But he became BBC’s primary science reporter during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. You and I growing up saw Walter Cronkite tell us about the space program. A U.K. citizen saw James Burke, so he became the voice of science for the U.K. through BBC. His shows on PBS were at the time the most watched shows on PBS —they were watched by 15 million people, which is remarkable for a public television show. I found him fascinating because he would make connections between the history, history of science and technology, and science. They were just entertaining. Dennis and I said, “We just have to get him!” So again, this is pre-email days. I just dialed BBC, and I said, “I’d like to speak to James Burke.”

HOLLOWAY: It’s remarkable what you can do when you…

DYLLA: I got a real operator, and she said, “Oh, he’s not here right now. Here’s his home telephone number.” Can you imagine that?

HOLLOWAY: That would be illegal today.

DYLLA: I felt I was on a roll, so I dialed his home telephone number. I couldn’t imagine what my telephone bill was going to be, but I was at Princeton so they were paying the bill. So he picks up the phone. James Burke picks up. He said, “James Burke here,” and I probably had a very stupid, innocuous line like, “You don’t know me, but…” [Laughter]

HOLLOWAY: “I’m giving you this offer of a lifetime.”

DYLLA: Right. “I’m from a strange-sounding society called the American Vacuum Society.” We talked for about half an hour, and he loved my description of the AVS, and he thought he would enjoy the opportunity of coming to talk to us because he was just working on a new PBS show called “Information and Change.” Of course this was just before Tim Berners-Lee came out with the web, okay? So he was willing to do it, but he said, “Look, you’ll have to talk to my agent.” He gave me the name of his agent in New York. I mean he’s fairly well known, okay? So it turns out he worked through an agent that only had a small number of celebrities: himself, both Dr. Spock, the baby doctor, and the Spock in the Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy, and I think that was it. So my next call was to the agent, and Burke had already called the agent and said he’d like to do this, so give them the non-profit rate. It turns out for a one-hour talk in front of a large group his going rate was $12,000, and the most I think any AVS program chair had paid for a plenary speaker was maybe $200. [Laughter] So I said, “This is going to be a hard sell! Can’t hide this one!” So I don’t know how I convinced my fellow program chairs that we were going to do this, but I think I used something of the argument that he has educated in one fell swoop 15 million people, and when do any of us standing in front of a very large invited audience at AVS—maybe we’d have 600, okay? And our papers get read by, if we’re lucky, a few hundred of our colleagues. So we can learn something from this man. And we had 3,000 people attend this meeting. I bet 2,000 of them would come, and the Boston Sheraton has a ballroom big enough. So I divided the number of attendees into his fee and it was a few bucks a person. I said, “Look, okay? There’s the arithmetic. Let’s do it!” So we signed the contract. It was $6,000 plus his travel expenses. One week before the Boston Symposium, I get a call from James Burke. He said, “Fred, we’ve got a little problem.” “Not to worry, I’m still coming. But we have a little bit of a problem. BBC wants me in Amman, Jordan the night before I’m to give your talk in Boston and I’m meeting the king. I can get there, but the only way I can get there is if you fly me on the Concorde.” I said, “What am I going to do?” [Laughter] We had advertising all over the place. You know, James Burke, the plenary speaker.

HOLLOWAY: Committed.

DYLLA: Just have to do it. So I swallowed hard and I said, “Okay, well $6 per person now, right?” [Laughter]


DYLLA: So he does show up. It turns out he takes a plane from Jordan to London, hops on the Concord to Kennedy. Then we get him over to LaGuardia where he takes a shuttle up to Boston. I had Donna Bakale meet him in a car at the Boston Logan Airport and we whisk him to the hotel, and he shows up about an hour before his talk. He gave a wonderful talk. I don’t know if you were there…

HOLLOWAY: I was there. I heard it. It was a really great talk.

DYLLA: …but it was a fascinating talk. We kept him in front of that large audience for about half an hour answering questions, and then I just calculated how long he had been up. I knew we hadn’t fed him anything yet. [Laughter] And I sort of whispered to him, “You have to be tired and hungry and thirsty,” and he said, “Yeah, I could have a bit to eat.” So we whisked him off stage. This is the ‘89 meeting when I’m Program Chair, and Joe and Dennis and I took him up to Joe’s presidential suite (he was the President that year). That was about 8:00 at night, and he talked to us until midnight on all sorts of things, any question that we asked. It was one of my most remarkable AVS experiences. I hope it was remarkable for the about 2,000 people that heard him.

HOLLOWAY: It was remarkable. It was really a good talk.

DYLLA: But no Program Chair since has attempted to break that honorarium barrier!

HOLLOWAY: You set a new high.

DYLLA: That’s right, that’s right. Yeah. The ‘90s for me were very different. It was my next career, building accelerators and then eventually building a free electron laser.

HOLLOWAY: So CEBAF was now renamed Jefferson National?

DYLLA: Well, CEBAF, I had to get rid of that name, and I don’t know if I can take full credit. But I complained so much about the name that I convinced Hermann that when the laboratory was going to be dedicated in 1996 that we should use the ceremony to rename the lab. I thought it’s an electron laboratory, okay? It could be the Thompson Laboratory, but he was a Tory and that probably wouldn’t go over well. It turns out Ben Franklin was given the first scientific degree by the College of William and Mary in 1756, and the Chemistry Department there likes to point to that as this was their first degree.

HOLLOWAY: And they gave it to a modest person, right? [Chuckles]

DYLLA: They gave it to a modest person! But again, Boston and Philadelphia claim Franklin, and for a Virginia institution, there is really only one name. CEBAF was built on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News. The founding university for the project was University of Virginia, Mr. Jefferson’s university. So it just had to be Jefferson Lab. Well, when the Department of Energy got wind of this, they said, “You can’t be a laboratory. A national laboratory has to have $100 million a year operating budget.”

HOLLOWAY: Well, that’s all right!

DYLLA: We had about $70 million, okay? I said, “Well, just fix it, okay?”

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, just dump money on this.

DYLLA: Yeah, we can take care of that. That didn’t go over. You had to be a facility. So we got wind of the official name about two days before the dedication of the laboratory when the then Secretary of Energy, Hazel O’Leary, and two Virginia senators, John Warner and Chuck Robb, were going to show up for this big ceremony and lots of DOE officials. They were going to call it the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, TJNAF. You can’t pronounce it even! My wife Linda was the Public Affairs Officer at Jefferson Lab, and she was doing all the arrangements for the dedication, including working with the Highway Department that had signs on Interstate 64 for CEBAF. So she called them up and said, “Okay, we have a lot of officials coming down including our two senators. The signs have to come down,” and they said, “Yes, ma’am. What would you like to put on the signs?” “Just put Jefferson Lab.” [Laughter] So the signs went up the day before the dedication, and some DOE official came up to her and said, “Where did those signs come from?” “That’s the State. I can’t control the State.”

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, “What are you looking at me for?”

DYLLA: So that was the nickname we wanted, Jefferson Lab, and so it stuck as the street name and it’s pretty much the official name of the lab, too.

HOLLOWAY: Right, yeah.

DYLLA: The rest of the ‘90s for me was very exciting. I learned this new technology. I learned a lot of interesting things about it and continued my scientific career in two directions. It turns out the most persnickety problem in anybody’s vacuum system, whether it’s a little surface science chamber, like I started out with and you started out with, or a mile-long accelerator, or a hundred cubic meter vacuum vessel or a space simulation chamber, is desorbing water. Water is ubiquitous. And as I looked into the science of water on stainless steel or aluminum, the two ubiquitous materials that we built things out of, it was primitive. People would say, “Oh, there’s about a monolayer of water.” I said, “Where is the data?” and the data was all over the place. I said, “So what’s its binding energy?” We didn’t know that! All the careful surface science that AVS has been on the frontline for CO and tungsten and water on nickel, we did not understand water on stainless steel, the most important practical material that we would build a semiconductor processing station out of and we build these complicated scientific devices. So I found a graduate student at College of William and Mary; I had an adjunct there. I had hoped to be more than just an adjunct, but it turns out Hermann never gave me enough time to really be a professor, but at least I could have graduate students. So the entire time I was at Jefferson Lab, I had a marvelous collaboration with my colleagues in the Physics Department, Chemistry Department, and the Applied Science program that Dennis ran. We ran many graduate students through our programs at Jefferson Lab. So I found a young Chinese graduate student by the name of Minxu Li, and he thought he wanted to be a particle physicist, and then he thought, “Hey, it might be tough finding a job.” He had heard a seminar, a colloquium that I gave at the College of William and Mary, about how we put the cavities together, and he said, “I’d like to help you do something.” I said, “Look, we’ve got a real problem. You figure out water on stainless steel and you’re going to be a hero.” That turned out to be a wonderful five-year collaboration, and the collaboration continued with Paul Redhead. Paul was intimately involved in mentoring this student with me. We ended up publishing a series of four papers on the absorption of water on stainless steel that are the canonical reference now. “What do we know about water and stainless steel? What do we know about quantities? What do we know about the binding energies? What do we know about the isotherms?” They were all published in JVST as a series “Water on Stainless Steel; 1, 2, and 3”. Then there was the fourth paper, which was some work on: OK, “now that you quantify the water, how do you get rid of it?” On some glow discharge techniques on how you remove water. I summarized all that, and I was invited to give an invited talk on water in 2000. I forget what I called it; I had a clever title. I think the meeting might have been back in Boston at that time. But to me, that was one of my culminating experiences in AVS, was to get up in front of my colleagues and deal with a problem that almost every one of us has dealt with.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Not in the detail that you dealt with it, though.

DYLLA: Well, it was mainly Minxu; I was just his mentor.

HOLLOWAY: Well, you were a professor. We take credit for that! [Laughter]

DYLLA: That’s right, we do, we do. [Laughter] Minxu has gone on to have a very nice career with vacuum mass spectrometer manufacturers and with semiconductor equipment manufacturing. So he’s put his work together in a nice career.

HOLLOWAY: Great. Now were you working with committees on AIP at this time, too?

DYLLA: In the late ‘90s, was I doing anything for AIP? I was probably the AVS representative to AIP on the Governing Board, and then I also pulled together a joint project between AIP and AVS called “The Classics Series in Vacuum Science and Technology.” I’d had from my MIT days a mimeographed—probably people don’t know what that is, but these purple sheets that we used to copy things with back in the ‘50s and ‘60s—Fred Rosebury’s vacuum tube manual from MIT. This came out of the Radiation Lab and this was a how-to manual on how to braise, how to weld, how to measure vapor pressures. It was a wonderful how-to book, long out of print. There were a couple of other books that I found valuable in my career, like Paul Redhead’s book on “The Physical Basis of Ultra High Vacuum”, out of print by Chapman and Hall. I said, “There must be a dozen of these things.” So I convinced AIP to publish under their book series “The Classics Series,” and we went back and found the copyrights and got permission to redo these books. For about five years, we reprinted two or three books a year and we got up to about two dozen in the series5, and AIP sold its books to Springer and the whole thing kind of died. But those books are still available, and to any student that I was involved with I would always give them these books because they were a good firm foundation for vacuum science, and they were desk references. So that taught me a little more about what AIP did. After I was President, I became chair of the AVS Long-Range Planning Committee. That used to be just sort of a catch-all job that the Past President did, and by then the Past President was eager to go back to doing what they were paid for. But Joe Greene, and to some extent you, taught me that this is not a do-nothing committee.

HOLLOWAY: Right, it’s an important committee.

DYLLA: If AVS didn’t keep a searchlight looking forward, it was going to become irrelevant. Because we weren’t a named discipline. We weren’t the American Physical Society or the American Chemical Society or the Materials Research Society. We had this strange niche name, and I don’t think we have solved the name problem. But people who have been in AVS and work with AVS are its biggest proponents. The Long-Range Planning Committees I think were absolutely essential to say, “So what does AVS want to do in the next decade?” You know, the first decade was just vacuum technology, then into thin film, and then surface science, and surface science to electronic materials processing and plasma processing. Now we’re in the ‘90s, and to me it was Jim Murday’s evangelism on nano-science that I found just right. AVS was perfectly placed to play a major role in nano-science and technology. We had published the First International Conference on Scanning Probe Technologies in JVST; we had the cross disciplinary expertise to jump on this. Jim made pitches to the Long-Range Planning Committee, which included the presidential chains at the time, that we should have a JVST C, and we didn’t do it. That’s probably, in hindsight, a big error because we would have been 20 years ahead of the bandwagon.

HOLLOWAY: A missed opportunity.

DYLLA: Yeah, yeah. Now at the same time we started talking about bio-surfaces, which was a fascinating connection to how I started in science. It turns out, I actually did finish my thesis when I got to Princeton. About two years later, I ended up taking beautiful images of my own red blood cells using a Phi scanning probe microscope that had a mass spectrometer on it and published the results in Nature and in Surface Science. So, three years after I finished my PhD, I finally finished my PhD! [Laughter] And that’s where I met Buddy Ratner, who had played an essential role in the Society of getting us involved with bio-surfaces.

HOLLOWAY: Right. He was a key player.

DYLLA: Yes And I just got too involved with fusion and accelerators, but I had this annoying little hankering in the back of my mind that I really should jump back into bio-physics.

HOLLOWAY: Well, one day when you retire you can go back into that field again.

DYLLA: [Laughter] So I missed that. But I think AVS missed an opportunity. It would have been a natural progression from vacuum to thin film to surface science to electronic materials processing. It should have been nano-bio in the ‘90s, and we should have really jumped on it. I think we missed the bandwagon there. My last big contribution to AVS was working with Paul Redhead. I got to do a festschrift for Paul, I think at that same Boston meeting where I invited many of his colleagues to talk about what he did. I’m very glad I did that while Paul was still alive, and he could sit there and enjoy it.

HOLLOWAY: He enjoyed that very much.

DYLLA: Yeah, yeah. Then he and I embarked on a special project for the 2003, the 50th anniversary of AVS, and that was a lot of fun but a lot of work. We put two years into it. We asked each large topical subject editor, surface science, vacuum technology, thin film, electronic materials, to go out and get the five or six best—review articles is probably not quite the word—sort of an overview. It’s not an exhaustive review, but what in the last 50 years that AVS and AVS members and authors played a role in. What has been AVS contribution to these sciences? We rolled out in September 2003 a special issue of JVST, for the 50th anniversary. On the cover it had a picture of all 50 presidents. So you and I are there.

HOLLOWAY: Right. I remember.

DYLLA: Then everyone who wrote those articles, nearly everyone who wrote those, gave talks that year, and that was one of the most enjoyable AVS meetings I ever went to. My colleagues that year gave Paul and me a little special plaque on preserving the history of the Society that I cherish.

HOLLOWAY: You certainly have done a yeoman’s duty in working with the history of this society.

DYLLA: And then the Society also made me an honorary member I think the following year, and that was a lot of fun because it was a complete surprise.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, completely surprised!

DYLLA: Yeah. [Laughter] So by 2006, I had overseen the development of first a kilowatt free electron laser and then a 10 kilowatt free electron laser.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, you held the world’s record in power. Do you still hold that?

DYLLA: It’s still the world’s record for highest power tunable laser. There are higher power lasers that the government has built at single wavelengths, but this is femtosecond class, tunable, and we managed to convince the state of Virginia to build a laboratory above it. You and your colleagues from Florida and all across the country have used it to do chemistry, biology, materials processing.

HOLLOWAY: A lot of good research there.

DYLLA: It was a lot of fun. I sort of finished my scientific career at JLab after we got the 10 kilowatt mark. My colleagues, just this summer, have gotten the high power UV laser working. In 2006 another mentor from AVS, Charlie Duke, who I met in the late ‘70s Surface Science Division, called me up and said, “AIP needs a new executive director. I’m chairing the search committee. I want you to put your application in.” I said, “Charlie, I’m really enjoying myself here. It’s a nice place to live, and I’ve got lots of colleagues at the College of William and Mary, and I just don’t want to leave,” and he said, “Well, you need to put your application in.” So he calls me two weeks later and said, “You’re application is in. I need some references,” and so I gave him some references. One of the most exhaustive search processes I’ve ever been through was what happened the next two months. Charlie took the search committee, which is 12 people, made them read three business books, made them do three surveys of AIP’s staff, management, and its customers in the Member Societies, and had them read these surveys, then describe a profile of what the executive director should do. And this was before the search committee had even interviewed a single candidate.

HOLLOWAY: Sounds like Charlie Duke all right.

DYLLA: That sounds like Charlie Duke. But I found myself on the short list of six candidates, and this was chapter two of Charlie’s indoctrination. Each of the six candidates was given the same material, the three books, the surveys, the profile, and you were asked to say, “Okay, what are the three most important things that AIP should be doing? Why did you pick those? What in your experience or your mindset would give you any confidence that you could do anything about them?” That’s how the questions were posed.

HOLLOWAY: [Laughter] Sort of a dare!

DYLLA: Yeah. So I was told that I would show up in College Park on a certain date, that I would have a three-hour appointment with these eleven folks. The first 15 minutes I was supposed to answer those three questions. I could give a PowerPoint lecture, I could just lecture—it was my choice. The next 15 minutes I was going to be interrogated by the committee on my 15 minute exposition. And then the next two and a half hours, Charlie had planted one question at each of the eleven questioners. They became experts on publishing, outreach to minorities, history, archiving, some AIP activity. And I realized before I showed up to the interview that I had to do a lot of work to prepare for this, so I started in September. The interview was the end of October. When I started, it was okay. Charlie has been really good to me. I learned a lot from him. He and Len Brillson at Xerox were extremely helpful in supporting the free electron laser program, and I just learned a lot from him through all his experiences on AVS. So I felt I had to give this a good try. By the time I finished doing the homework preparing for it, I actually got interested in the job! I said, “I’m doing so much work I’d better really give it my best shot. You know, maybe I’ll get it.” At the end of the three-hour interrogation, I didn’t feel so good. I mean I was nervous. I think I handled myself pretty well. I think I answered all the questions. I think I could look everyone in the eye. AIP is this federation of ten societies, so I had an astronomer and an optical person and a geophysicist and an acoustician. Luckily, with my career, I could talk acoustics. As a kid I built a telescope. I collected rocks. I could almost do something with everyone around the room. I was going to get stumped by the guy from the Society of Rheology until I remembered rheology is soft matter, and I did Langmuir-Blodgett films. So I felt I could say something to all of them. But it was a much tougher interview than my PhD oral defense. It was really tough. So I walked out not sure that I was going to be on the top of the list of six. I didn’t know who the other five were. I got a call two days later from Charlie who said, “Fred, that wasn’t your best. You were nervous. I’ve seen you whip a crowd like nothing.” “Yeah, I was, Charlie.” He said, “Well, you’re in the top three, and we’re forwarding the three of your names to the AIP executive committee without prejudice. They’ll see all the material and then they get to choose.” Now the AIP executive committee was chaired by Millie Dresselhaus, the chair of the governing board. I get a call from her saying, “Okay, you’re going to show up on this day. You’re going to have three hours…” [Laughter]

HOLLOWAY: Been there, done that, Millie! [Laughter]

DYLLA: Yeah! And slightly different questions but pretty much the same. You know, what are the top three things you would do for AIP? But tell us how you would do them. What would be your three- to five-year plan, and how are you going to implement it? Fortunately, the executive committee was like the executive committee of any society. They’re volunteers. They hadn’t been through Charlie Duke’s boot camp, and so their questions, they hadn’t prepared as well as Charlie’s search team.

HOLLOWAY: So they were pushovers.

DYLLA: It was a pushover. And fortunately, I got a call the next day from Millie and she said, “We’d like to negotiate and see if you’d like to take the job.” So that was December 2006, and they wanted me to start in March, overlap Mark Brodsky who was currently the executive director and had been executive director for the past 15 years. Curiously, I was on his search committee when I was on the AIP board in ’93! So Mark thought it would be valuable for me to just shadow him in the month of March because the AIP board met next in March. I took over on April Fool’s Day, 2007. I was reminded that it might be an appropriate day for this transition! So it’s now my fourth transition, and I miss the day-to-day involvement with an active science group. But it’s been replaced by being exposed to the best science across the entire country. AIP represents 135,000 scientists from all fields—physics, chemistry, biology, engineers.

HOLLOWAY: Very brilliant.

DYLLA: It’s an overwhelming job. I have to keep it from being overwhelming. I looked at my schedule at Christmas and my first unscheduled day was in August. It’s just you have to prioritize. It’s a very different job than I think it was when Mark took over; Mark took over the day the first web browser came out, and the 300,000 pages that AIP publishes for about 30 different societies were all on paper. It all had to transform to a new way of doing things, and that transition never stops. We’re now trying to figure out how we display your journal content onto a whole array of personal devices like iPads and iPhones.

HOLLOWAY: How serious is the open access journals to that mode?

DYLLA: That’s a very interesting dynamic. It’s being posed by our library colleagues. An open access journal is basically a business model. There are 25,000 scientific and technical journals in the world. They grow at a rate of 3% new titles per year—and if you think this is something new, it’s actually been on that curve for 350 years.

HOLLOWAY: It’s the Moore’s growth curve, huh?

DYLLA: Yes. Since the Royal Society put out the first journal which was peer reviewed. And the only difference is then it was printed and sent around by Pony Express, and now we print online and distribute much more quickly. But the basic journal hasn’t changed in 350 years. Journals that you and I typically see run by a business model where a research library has a subscription for full access and anyone within your University of Florida’s system can see it. So access has gone way up from the days when you and I had to walk down to the library and pick up a copy and read it. With the open access model, rather than paying for the cost of publishing the journal through a subscription, the author pays up front, and when it’s published it goes up on the web and is completely outside of a subscription wall. About 10% of science journals have this model now by title, so it’s still not a dominant business model. It has become a very controversial topic, much more so than it warrants because it has a populist ring to it, especially if you do a simple statement that, “Well, the US government pays for a lot of research. As a citizen, I should be able to read about it.” Well, that’s true. But somebody between the author and the publisher and the reader has to pay for it.

HOLLOWAY: Somebody has to pay for it!

DYLLA: Somebody has to pay, okay? I found the problem so thorny but also so emotional that there was very little quantitative basis for how should we make this transition. Should we make this transition? Should there be hybrid models? And if we were not careful enough, you could damage the enterprise of scholarly publishing. Publishers come and go, but the enterprise of how a scientist shows his or her work in a peer reviewed journal that’s out on a platform that is accessible and archived from first volume to whatever, costs $1,000-$4,000 per article. And somebody has to pay for it. So last year, I helped put together a committee under the House Science and Technology Committee called the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable. The chair of the House science committee, Bart Gordon, was tired of having publishers and librarians argue in front of him about this access problem, and he turned to both constituents and said, “You’re the same people. You’re academics. Don’t tell me about a problem. Bring me a solution.” So he said, “Look, I can empanel a staff committee; we call it a roundtable. I can protect you from the day-to-day assault of proponents or opponents or the press, and you try to have a reasonable conversation about what the problem is.” So, in June of last year, this roundtable is put together, and I helped nominate some people for it. We had four librarians, four publishers, and four provosts, because provosts are in the middle of this. They have to pay the librarians’ fees, and they have to deal with the scholarly publishing enterprise because that’s how you evaluate whether you’re going to hire a new faculty member.

HOLLOWAY: Exactly. Or retain.

DYLLA: Or retain. We felt this was the appropriate mixture to analyze the problem, and so we worked all last year. This is remarkable to me. We started in June 2009, and we posted our report on the House Science Committee website on January 12, 2010. None of our draft reports and none of our discussions went public, and we were in Washington, DC! We didn’t solve the whole problem, but we agreed as a group on a set of principles that scholarly publishing has to maintain, and we agreed on a set of recommendations to go forward. Those recommendations are in the current reauthorization of what’s called the America Competes Bill. This is a very important bill for science. It reauthorizes spending for the Office of Science and National Science Foundation. It’s a 200-page bill on the House side, but there are two pages on how the scholarly community should move forward on access issues. I didn’t support every recommendation, as a publisher. All of us who were involved felt we left a little blood on the floor, so we compromised and we put a path forward together. So since the report came out in January, I’ve had a presentation roughly once a month to a group of publishers or librarians or academics on our report and recommendations, and how we should go forward. I’d say roughly half my time has been spent on this macro issue because AIP is basically a publisher. Ninety percent of our income comes from publishing, and we use that money for outreach for science. We run the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, where the archives of the AVS go. For example, it has such a good reputation, the Department of Energy gave the AIP Center for History of Physics its entire set of photos from the Manhattan period for safekeeping.

HOLLOWAY: Is that right? Wow!

DYLLA: We run the Society of Physics Students at 700 campuses. So these are very important outreach activities that happen because we make a modest profit on publishing. But also it’s important for AVS and the Member Societies that we stay on top in the field of publishing. It’s an important source of income for AVS, but for an AVS member, it’s the primary means of communication. So this is 2010. I have one more year on my five-year contract with AIP. If the executive committee decides to renew it, I will probably stay around a little longer.

HOLLOWAY: So are you willing to tell me the three things you considered most important for AIP and what you found about them?

DYLLA: Probably on the top is the issue that we’ve just talked about. I tried to take the issue of public access and open access and get the right people in a room and have a reasonable discussion, a path for it. That’s probably the most important thing I’ve done. The second thing is I’ve hired the next level of the management team. AIP has been around 80 years; the average employee has been there 17 years. That’s good in that you have experienced people, but it also means you can get a lot of “the not invented here” syndrome or “we don’t do it that way.” And publishing has, like most businesses, a component that has been raked over the coals by outsourcing. Some of the back office activities of making a page into proper typeset, that either goes online or goes into print; that page production work is now done overseas. I’ve had to hire people who know how to do that and to oversee that transition, and that transition is in place. If we didn’t do that, we would go out of business as a publisher. I’ve had to bring in other people who grew up in digital publishing as opposed to growing up in the print world. A year and a half ago, I hired a gentleman by the name of John Haynes who is a PhD, a physical chemist. He’s now head of publishing for AIP and he’s helping; he’s taking the lead in this transformation. Several other employees in this realm have joined, including one I introduced to the AVS Board yesterday, Robert Harington, whose title is publisher, publishing partnerships. We are pitching to AVS, not AIP, as your back room publisher where we just do the mechanics and turn the crank, but as a partner where we would help the journals grow—not necessarily in size but in stature—and look at the product as more of a joint venture, in terms of having it grow in its editorial stance and in its technological reach. So I think the most important thing I’m doing for AIP is keeping AIP on the frontiers of publishing. I have two measures of this transformation of our publishing. It’s far from over. I think there’s at least another two years of very hard work to do, and then you never stop because this is a very fast-moving business because it’s driven by the dissemination technology. The chief technical officer of the Nature publishing group (Nature and Science are of course premier journals that every scientist likes to get published in) came and gave a talk to our publishing group last fall. He said, “You know, I never used to pay attention to AIP. You guys were sleepy backwater, but you beat us on having an iPhone application this year. Your folks know as much, or maybe more, about the basic software engine that we drive our publishing on. It’s called Mark Logic. I pay attention to you guys now.” Just a month ago, a publishing/marketing firm that actually keeps track of the entire IT industry did an annual survey of the scientific, technical, and medical publishers. It’s dominated by some very large companies: Reed Elsevier and Wiley Blackwell. These are multi-billion dollar companies. On the list of just revenues, AIP is number 48, but there are 2,500 of these publishers. So there are three groups: several large commercial publishers, a middling group of modest-sized publishers like AIP or the American Chemical Society or IEEE, and then a long tail of very small societies that self-publish one or two journals. This same article highlighted four scientific publishers to be watched over the next year, and we were on that list of four.

HOLLOWAY: Congratulations!

DYLLA: We think we’re being noticed, but we’re in the middle of a very difficult transformation of an organization that’s very good. They know what they’re doing, but they’re in an industry that has changed tremendously from 20 years ago where you and I would mail in a typewritten manuscript; it would get processed by people who pushed around paper, out to peer reviewers, back in paper, and eventually show up in print in our library or on our desk. It’s a very different industry now. So that’s the second thing that I think has made my life at AIP interesting. The third is trying to keep all of our outreach activities customer driven. So the History Center now is on only its third director. Greg Good took over a year ago from Spencer Weart, and he’s putting up a wonderful web exhibit on next year’s 100th anniversary of the discovery of the nucleus by Rutherford. The Center’s web exhibits have been up since the web started—very popular with students and academics. The Society of Physics Students is expanding to international chapters. We just opened up an editorial office in Beijing in June and found that, as we went around to Chinese universities, the idea of a physics club was foreign to them, but they’d really like to do it. We publish something called Gradschool Shopper, which tells a prospective graduate student what each graduate school offers, and they’d love to have a Chinese version of that. Many of our outreach activities, which are well entrenched here in the US and in Europe, will move into the fastest growing market for science, which is China. So there’s no shortage of things in this job to keep me occupied.

HOLLOWAY: Well, that activity would certainly ensure new blood coming into the societies and AIP.

DYLLA: That’s right, that’s right. So I was invited to the Board meeting yesterday, where I like to come about once a year and tell the Board about what AIP is doing for AVS. I was able to pitch a different type of relationship on publishing now that we’ve hired a gentleman who has done this for 20 years, and I think it will be a welcome new tact in the AIP/AVS relationship. So I think that brings us up to date. And Paul, I thank you for listening to me!

HOLLOWAY: Well, that’s quite a story with a lot of important lessons to be learned in there, Fred, and I’m very grateful for your being willing to go through the exercise.

DYLLA: It was my pleasure. I can’t imagine someone listening to all this, but you were very polite to. [Laughter]

HOLLOWAY: Okay. Well, thanks again.

DYLLA: Okay. Thank you, Paul.

  1. The change to the Plasma Science and Technology Division (PSTD), became official on January 1, 1986.
  2. University of Florida
  3. Free Electron Laser
  4. A rent increase; not for office access!
  5. The original Classic Series is listed at http://www2.avs.org/historybook/links/classicbooks.htm
    return to top