AVS Historical Persons | Jack Singleton - 1991

Jack Singleton - 1991

Oral Interview with Jack Singleton Interview

Interviewed by Paul Redhead, November 13, 1991
REDHEAD: Hello. My name is Paul Redhead. As part of the Society's historical archives series, I'm going to be talking with Jack Singleton. Today is November 13, 1991. We are at the 38th National Symposium of the AVS, which this year is in Seattle. 

Jack Singleton, as you're all aware, has made major contributions, both through vacuum science and technology and the American Vacuum Society. He had a long history of service to the Society as secretary from about 1971 to 1984, and then as president in 1986. I believe, Jack, you started work at the Westinghouse Research Lab. I'm not quite sure when you started there.

singleton.JPGJACK SINGLETON: I started in '55, and came from Seattle, from here, to work in the chemistry department working for the Lamp Division at that time. It was supposed to be some very basic studies. What it really turned out to be was to try to look at the phosphors in fluorescent lamps and determine if the gases which were present in the lamps were affecting the 1output of phosphors, and what the stability of the light output was. That was the beginning. 

Then the company had a strike. The strike went on for about 180 days. This was before I ever went to the Lamp Division. 2Bloomfield is where they were at the time. We quickly switched over to doing some work on hydrogen in zirconium-uranium alloy, zircalloy.

REDHEAD: Was this related to a nuclear energy project in some way?

SINGLETON: Yes. This was for the reactors for the fuel pins, the coating for the fuel pins. The idea was to plot out how hydrogen interacted with them and what kind of boundaries there were to the solid solution phase and then the hydride phase and see how much gas would go into them.

REDHEAD: I presume this involved mass spectrometry?

SINGLETON: No. We didn't really have to because we were dealing with large amounts of hydrogen. So this was a massive influence on the properties of the thing. It really meant a chemist's vacuum system, which was fine since that was what I was. We were measuring the uptake of hydrogen by the zircalloy at a bunch of temperatures, starting at 800 degrees C, which you need to clean the oxide off the 3surface, and then gradually working down to as low as we could get. I'd find the phase limits by determining how much hydrogen would be taken up in the equilibrium phase. It was interesting work and it kept us funded. So we lived to continue and work for Lamp Division projects for a number of years.

REDHEAD: Where did you go after the lamp division work? 

SINGLETON: I didn't really get away from the Lamp Division work. I was working for the Lamp Division and suddenly an angel in rather ragged clothing came up from the Physics Department, namely Bill Lange. Bill Lange had lots of money working on the Project Sherwood. This was fusion work. They apparently wanted someone who had a little chemical experience. I had done a lot of absorption work with 4Halsey and catalytic work and hydrogen and things. The general idea was that I should join the Physics Department, as it was at that time.

REDHEAD: Roughly when was this?

SINGLETON: That would be around about 1961, between '60-'61. I really wasn't quite sure that they would let me move. As long as I promised to continue some of the work on the lamps, yes, it would be fine. So I actually moved down there, and that was when I first started in the ultra-high vacuum group. 

REDHEAD: Who was in that group then, at that point?

SINGLETON: There was Bill Lange-- 

REDHEAD: Was he the group leader?

SINGLETON: No, not really. Russ Fox was the group leader. Russ Fox was the head of the department, and Bill Lange was part of it. Then we had a few people who nodded in. Schulz was in there, the Schulz-Phelps gauge. Bob Zollweg came in at some time or another. And Hank Riemersma had been working there trying to develop an ion gauge which had a cold electron source, mainly a photo multiplier. I inherited part of that work. Paul Waters I think I mentioned, or maybe not. Paul Waters was working there. He was the guy who did some work on emission of electrons when you absorb oxygen on tungsten, using a flash filament experiment5. Then as the oxygen absorbed back on to the filament as it cooled, he was looking for electrons.

REDHEAD: You triggered a vagrant memory of mine. I remember talking to him. 

SINGLETON: Yes? Well, he was a very enthusiastic guy, and as it turned out, not a terribly careful guy. What he had done was in fact a phony experiment. But he talked so much about it that we then spent a year-- We shouldn't talk about this, really. That's-- Well, anyway. Anyway, Paul, for about a year we worked on it and finally improved the sensitivity over what had been done originally by several orders of magnitude and showed that at least at that level there were no electrons6 hidden on it. 

Then a couple of years later, someone found that, about two decades further down7, in fact there were electrons. The original thing had just been simply a matter of when you flash the filament to get the oxygen off preparatory to absorbing oxygen, you really blast off thermionic electrons. If you have a collector which is sitting there ready to pick up the exo-electrons8 later on, you polarize the heck out of any insulators that are around, and then later on, when you turn off the flash, things are in trouble. We got around it fairly readily, but then Paul really didn't think that that was the answer. He said no, he'd done the things that we were doing - in other words, biasing the electron collector such that it didn't pick up electrons during the flash filament. It was a real terrible mess, because I don't think he was deliberately falsifying the thing. It was just that he couldn't really believe that what he'd done had not been correct. It had been so exciting. Better scrub that [laughs].

REDHEAD: I remember him telling me about it.

SINGLETON: Full of enthusiasm. 

REDHEAD: At the time, I happened to be interested in exo-emissions. I got excited about it. Am I right in assuming that by this time Alpert had left Westinghouse?

SINGLETON: Yes, he had left the lab. It was just a relatively small group and the embarrassment of the large amounts of money coming in. Our objective of the group at that time was to study processes which limited the attainment of ultra-high vacuum and to study processes for measurement. Gauging was fair game and absorption on surfaces was, we thought, fair game. Bill Lange was doing his work on looking to see whether X-rays would desorb gas from stainless steel surfaces and so on. It was a very exciting place to come, though the main excitement kind of diminished because the Westinghouse Labs, all of the big push to get new techniques had gone. Because of course Alpert and his group were not looking at ultra-high vacuum per se, but merely methods for getting a clean system to do electron mobility experiments and whatever else in gasses. 

REDHEAD: You referred to that work that Bill Lange did on photo desorption. That, I presume, was done because of the interest in Stanford ring and so on.

SINGLETON: No, not in the least. The motivation was to look at all processes. The interesting thing there was that the Stanford ring problem has not come about. At Stanford, shortly after Bill concluded this work and after you had done the electron stimulated desorption from surfaces, Bill Lange and I were pushed by probably "Steverino" Dean. Yes, Steve Dean was pushing us - us meaning Bill Lange and myself - to go around all of the Project Sherwood facilities to try to help them on high vacuum work, which of course most of them didn't want to because they were physicists and they felt that high vacuum work was trivial and didn't matter.

We went to these various places. One of the places we went to turned out to be Stanford ring. There, there was a discussion. A guy wanted to talk to Bill - I forget his name, mercifully. He made a big story of this. He, by then, had discovered that whenever they started up a Stanford ring, the system degassed by the circulating beam. He was convinced that it was the X-rays that were desorbing the gas. Bill Lange and I went into this guy's office. Bill sat there, and within, oh, I suppose maybe ten minutes, Bill was saying, "No. Nothing to do with X-rays. Can't possibly be." he said, "But I know what it is. Let's look at the electron flux in that thing." Then he did a back-of-the-envelope calculation, quoted your stuff, and in an extraordinarily short period of time, there was the answer. When the Stanford guy talked about it later in the Project Sherwood meeting, he didn't mention Bill Lange. 

REDHEAD: You've triggered off another memory. I remember a meeting in Gaithersburg actually about-- 

SINGLETON: That might have been it. That was it. 

REDHEAD: It was organized to discuss this problem. I remember Bill was there and you were there. Yes, so you are ringing all sorts of spells in my memory.

SINGLETON: That one is one that always sticks in my mind because it always worries me that people are so egocentric that they can't realize that the work they're talking about was triggered directly by someone else. You don't give that kind of - if you don't give recognition to the people, you're a pretty damn bad scientist in my opinion.

REDHEAD: My recollection is that when we first switched that Stanford ring on, it blew all the fuses in northern California. 

SINGLETON: That I don't know. The trouble is, you ask me questions and I give you all the honest answers, which really aren't normally for publication [laughs].

REDHEAD: That's all right. What else is fixed in your mind as significant or fun in the research you did at Westinghouse?

SINGLETON: To go back to England, which is where I started. When I started on my PhD in England, it was a time right after the war when equipment was extremely scarce. I had actually wanted to go into the inorganic chemistry group. I had all staked out a position to go to work with H. J. Emeleus, who was a very excellent physical chemist - not the other Emeleus. Emeleus promptly left and went to Cambridge. His successor didn't want to lose his research group. There were very few of us9 at that time. When I started, it was a two-year B.Sc. course at that time at Imperial College. Then all of the group had to stay on at IC10. You could not be recruited into the Army because we had to finish the requirements for the University of London. So in fact after two years, we got an associateship in the Royal College of Science in chemistry. But to get the B.Sc. degree from the University of London, you had to stay an additional year. So everyone stayed on an additional year. 

This time, I chose where I wanted to go. Since I was fairly well of in the hierarchy at the end of the year, I could supposedly go where I wanted. But it turned out that the physical chemistry group wanted to get some first class honors people to work in physical chemistry. So I was dragged out and told, "No, you don't want to go and work with Welch. You want to come and work with Roberts and Winter." In fact, instead of inorganic chemistry, I went into catalysis. But that, again, was not what it was originally. What it was supposed to be was an experiment to use 15N to try to find the points on an enzyme which were active in the enzyme catalysis. The material which had been chosen was urease. I don't know how I can remember all this! Urease was to be obtained - it's one of the first enzymes that could be obtained in crystalline form. So you took the urease, it came from Jack Bean meal, which came from Fisher Scientific in the States in one-kilogram bottles. The exchange rate was enormous at the time. They got a Royal Society grant and they got about ten pounds of Jack Bean meal. I was supposed to take those and centrifuge it and get out all of the urease and then take that and react it with urea, which had been labelled with 15N. Then, we were to use mass spec, which was being built by someone in the Physics Department whose name was Harry Stopes-Rowe. You know 11Marie Stopes?


SINGLETON: Well, Harry Stopes-Rowe had a very high voice, and he was reputed to be the first experiment of Marie on birth control, which hadn't worked. But Harry was working on this mass spec, and it was it was the damnedest mass spec you ever saw in your whole life - stuck together, sealing wax everywhere, and it never worked. It was absolutely hopeless. 

So the first thing was that I was doing the experiment, and I had insufficient urease. We had the 15N and this mass spec was useless. We had no way of doing the analysis. It turns out that industrially there was someone industrial who wanted to built a mass spec. Graham, of Graham, Thode, and Urey, was at the Imperial College on a one-year sabbatical at that time. He had brought the specs12 for a mass spec. We had this built at Genatosan or whatever the company was. It may have been a part of the manufacturer of Aspirin. That13 came into the department and that was what I was supposed to use. But by that time, we had no more Jack Bean meal and we had no more urease. So we had one experiment, one very short paper, and that was all. 

Pandemonium - what do we do next? It turned out that one of the other people in the department had read about a paper done by Otto Beeke at Shell. Otto Beeke had done some of the most exciting work I've ever seen on catalysis, because catalysis at that time was just extraordinarily - used huge amounts of material, very impure, very non-uniform results. Otto Beeke had started to evaporate some nickel and various things, and then to do catalysis on these things and to do them in clean systems - all glass and little glass circulating pumps all in glass. The tungsten pins were for the bearings. 

So I looked at this together with our friend, and it looked so great. I suggested to Winters that maybe I should work on some catalysis and try to emulate Otto Beeke. And maybe what we should do, since there was some deuterium around, maybe I should try to exchange deuterium with ammonium on various catalysts. We started to do that and built this enormous vacuum system. Lots and miles of glass tubing at all stopcocks, except the critical places, and a thermal conductivity gauge on top of a McCleod gauge to which you could take little samples off of the hydrogen-deuterium and stick them up into this and do an analysis. Sort of a Pirani gauge type on small scale.

So that was the beginning of my interest in vacuum technology, all-glass systems. From there, I went up to the University of Aberdeen and worked there for three years as the lowest form of animal life - in other words, as an assistant. They don't even call them assistant lecturers there. For three years I worked there, promised that I would move up into a permanent, tenured position, which of course did not exist. It was just a technique for keeping us working at slave labor prices. 

At that time, I still kept a good correspondence with F.C. Tompkins at Imperial College, London. He had been of guidance to me in catalytic work. Tommy sent me over to the States. I came to the States to Seattle, worked with George Halsey on absorption, and then some more catalysis. I stayed for three years. At the end of three years I was looking for a job, and someone from Westinghouse was visiting his brother, a man by the name of Gulbransen. So Gulbransen interviewed me and I came to Westinghouse. 

That was the beginning of all this vacuum work. But then, when I was introduced to ultra-high vacuum, everything was so simple and so beautifully clean. It was extraordinary. It was just a joy to go to work. That was the beginning. 

REDHEAD: You did wonderful things for the American Vacuum Society for many, many years, particularly as Secretary. I remember you were the secretary for a very long time. What were the significant changes in the Society in the time you were Secretary?

SINGLETON: When I first joined the Society or first became involved with their hierarchy, there was a great deal of problem because the Society had originally started as a nuts-and-bolts society. Then along had come the thin film group, which began to dominate. A part of the problem was that the thin film, there was just the one division plus the vacuum metallurgy. There was no vacuum technology division. So we wanted to start a vacuum technology group. The real problem there was that many of the vacuum technology people felt very, very uncomfortable because they just quantitatively felt that they didn't have a handle on things.

Though they knew all the ways to get a decent vacuum and all of the nuts and bolts approaches, yet when it came to writing down what they've done for publication, they shied away from the thought that it should be reviewed. As you know, the original publications of the Society were not reviewed. Part of this time - and I may have the time sequence a little bit out - but part of the business of bringing in the vacuum technology division were to give people enough confidence that what they were doing was extraordinarily vital to the Society. It didn't matter if they couldn't hang a scientific tag on it, so long as this was done in a reputable way and was talked about properly.

Part of the thing in the beginning was when that started was the people like you who were considered by some people to be up in the clouds and not very practical, not wanting to talk to them - which of course was baloney. I would say that within that period of time, at least to my perception, there was a sort of a slow period where people began to accept that we could talk in scientific terms in the nuts and bolts area and have a good deal of influence, that we could in fact take papers there and have them reviewed and not destroy them. So there was this slow evolution from the unpublicized material to the running of the symposium in which every paper hopefully was going to be included in the journal and would therefore be reviewed. 

There was a lot of traumatic experience at that time because of that, because of the fact that there was not a lot of material going into the journal either. It was rather a slim volume at times. One of the points that we had many arguments from was if we're going to have everything that comes into the symposium in the journal, it led to problems with people having to promise far in advance what they were going to deliver. Some people literally made up their abstracts and then couldn't come through with the data and so on. People didn't want to have this long time. They didn't want to be forced to put their stuff in the journal. And yet, I think that the journal, JVST, really became an important document simply because there were those people who had the foresight that everything should go into the journal. For a long time, of course, we've had the symposium wagging the journal and the few odd papers coming in sometimes. 

I think that the Society has slowly come to the point of understanding that we are in truth an interdisciplinary society and that there's stuff for everyone here and that in fact, you don't just run a separate division. You run as a society and have symposia which crosses the division lines, so that you might have a session which is sponsored by the Surface Science Division and the Vacuum Technology Division to talk about analytical techniques, which are so much tied up in the vacuum aspects of it. 

Those are the kinds of things that I think were the major things that we were able to do for the Society, to bring this interdisciplinary structure much more to the fore as a main structure of the Society so that we talk with one another. 

REDHEAD: I guess it was during your period as Secretary that the journal really sort of established itself and then got some reasonable credibility within the scientific community.

SINGLETON: Yes. I think that one must grant that apart from the thin film people, which was always a very strong group with some extraordinarily good people in it and some ordinary people who really didn't want to mix with anyone else and who did a lot of damage in my opinion. But people like Klaus Bherndt who were very, very much interested in an integrated society, people like that would carry the day. 

But then I think one has to remember that one of the major thrusts in this society came with the development of the Surface Science Division. That has got to be laid at quite a number of doorsteps and obviously Pete Hobson is an important one. And a very important person is Charlie Duke. Charlie, I think, was the person who really made surface science within the vacuum society a valid thing. He did it with that sort of incredible - he was chauvinistic and he has a showmanship way of doing things, but it worked. He's the person who, for the 1971 international meeting in Boston made sure that we had I.U.P.A.P. recognition of the surface science section. He wanted it as a separate entity within the framework of the whole movement. I think that our ability to keep that meeting glued together was a great talent, and it worked fine.

Charlie was difficult to get along with until you put your foot down and said you understood exactly what he was doing but we had to do this. So we would do what he wanted, but he'd got to remember that he was part of the Vacuum Society. We'd try not to pollute the surface science too much. Then he became an extremely strong individual and was largely responsible for a lot of the glitter and gloss of that meeting.

REDHEAD: How do you see the future of the Society? Do you have a vision of where it's likely to go?

SINGLETON: I think that the problem that the Society has - there is going to be a problem - is that we have got to be-- we're in an environment now where the ability of someone such as myself working in an industrial lab to function as somewhat of a free agent in helping the Society to literally probably take off a third of a year to run a meeting as the - I was the program chairman of the international meeting in Boston - to take off all of a third of a year to have all of the facilities of the land to help me. That is becoming very difficult. 

REDHEAD: Virtually impossible.

SINGLETON: Virtually impossible. The real problem there is that I believe very, very strongly that what has always shaped the vacuum society has been the people working for it. As their ability to spend time helping the Society becomes eroded, we have a very, very serious problem. We just simply cannot run the Society with an executive director who is not a scientist, in my opinion. And in any case, you can't run it with an executive director, because there are many different influences that come into making this a live society. So we have to be sure, somehow or other, that we keep people involved and in detail and in the nitty-gritty. You can't just walk in and go and listen to a seminar. It doesn't work that way. People have got to be dedicated. I worry a little bit about that. And then I look around at the people who are working, and I feel good again because it's still the same dedicated people who work for the Society, for the Society first, not for themselves. It's not self-aggrandizement that drives the Society. It's in dedication to the Society. 

REDHEAD: Thank you, Jack. Anything else you would wish to record for posterity before we close?

SINGLETON: Sure. I would like to record one thing: that people coming in - I'm considering whether this should work for the Society - and realizing just how much work there is involved, I think that they should realize that for someone like myself, the Society has been an extraordinarily important part of my professional development. That is simply because of meeting with people, so it's the contacts. It's the development of my own, if you will, self-esteem and self-confidence that I can do things, which I never had. And the Society has been wonderful in that respect. So whatever I do for the Society now is nearly paying back what the Society has always done for me. That, I think, is something that people should realize.

REDHEAD: Thank you very much, Jack.

SINGLETON: My pleasure.

REDHEAD: I'm sure the Society has been grateful to you for all you've done for it, and now for recording your thoughts. 

1. Visible light output of phosphors
2. Bloomfield, N.J.
3. The oxide diffuses into the bulk leaving a surface on which hydrogen readily reacts. After heating, the temperature was reduced to the lowest value at which useful data could be obtained.
4. George D. Halsey
5. To desorb the chemisorbed oxygen
6. No electrons ejected during oxygen adsorption. Waters was working on an AEC program, and the detection of electrons as the oxygen adsorbed on tungsten was reported in the monthly progress report to the AEC, and orally at a Physical Society meeting. When I could not reproduce his data using his experimental setup we had to continue the work until it had been established that the original data appeared to be an artifact. Neither Paul's original work, nor the follow-up investigation were published in the archival press, only in the contract reports
7. With two decades increased sensitivity in the measurement of electron current
8. Electrons ejected during oxygen adsorption.
9. Potential Ph.Ds: most of the graduating class were told that they would be recruited into military service after one year. 
10. After completing the requirements and being awarded the ARCS degree of Imperial College all of the group had to stay on at IC (to complete the three years in college which was required to qualify for the BSc degree of the University of London - no further exams required!
11. Marie Stopes was a pioneer in the advocacy of birth control
12. Actually, the complete drawings
13. The mass spectrometer

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