AVS Historical Persons | Luther Preuss - 1993

Luther Preuss - 1993

Oral History Interview with Luther Preuss

Interviewed by Bill Lange, Nov. 18, 1993
LANGE: Good morning. I'm Bill Lange, and I have the distinct pleasure of talking with an old friend of many years, Dr. Luther Preuss, who is a retiree, as many of us are nowadays. Luther retired from the Edsel B. Ford Institute, and he's been active in the AVS for many years. He's been a mentor for many of us: he was involved heavily in the AVS in the formative years of the '50s and the '60s. I should say that it's November 18, 1993 now. We're at the occasion of the 40th National AVS Symposium. Hard to believe it's 40, isn't it, Luther? 

PREUSS: That's right.

LANGE: I wonder if you'd tell us how you became involved with the AVS.

preuss.JPGPREUSS: Well, to go back a little ways, I had a fellowship at University of Wisconsin when I was doing my graduate work, and that was to operate the Electron Microscope Laboratory. My advisor told me to build a shadow-casting outfit. It was a man by the name of Dr. Robley Williams who had invented it. Basically, it just amounted to producing a thin film of metal on electron microscope substrates. So I had to build a little vacuum outfit, and I knew absolutely nothing about this. Absolutely nothing. So, it was a learning process for me. When I took my position at the Research Institute, I got involved in that again, and I was doing some vacuum evaporation. I heard about the CVT1, so I tried to find out about their meetings and so forth, and that's how it all started, Bill.

LANGE: Well, you refer to the '60s. I know that's an interesting time and an important one in the development of the AVS. You played such an important role. I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about that.

PREUSS: I did become active in the late '50s with the AVS. Well, I'll refer to it as such, but it was CVT for a while there. I was an Officer and a Committee member with various and sundry duties, but you know, it was really an exciting time because there were a lot of changes taking place and important developments going on, as you discussed. It was really a stimulating time to be on that Board, in many different ways.

Bill, can we hold off for a minute? Because there is a section I should talk about. I got a little bit ahead of myself. 

These changes I was talking about probably started with, although it's a small matter, the change of name. It went from Committee on Vacuum Techniques to the acronym AVS, American Vacuum Society. So the direction, even in '57, started to take hold. We're now a Society, and we're not just a Committee anymore. The Committee was sort of an informal group. So it all started then. I started to think about this a little bit, especially after Jim2 asked me to sit down for an interview. One of the thoughts that occurred to me is that, in the development and growth of a society, it's very much like the human-at least, in my thinking, and thinking about this since Jim asked me to do this. You know, you have the birth process and then the youth period, and maybe you could consider that the CVT time. Then you come to this horrible period called adolescence. Anybody that's been a parent had been through that. This is a time of formation. It can be hectic, yet sometimes it isn't so hectic. I think it's a time when decisions are made by the individual-in this case, the Society. They pretty much delineate what's going to come later during the adult period. I would like to call that period of the '60s sort of an adolescent period in which the Society made a lot of decisions, took certain steps, and I think pretty much dictated the direction in which the Society was going to go. It was a formative period, and really, as I said earlier, kind of an interesting period, too, as you look back on it.

LANGE: You say that in this formative period, some very important steps and decisions were made. Maybe you would mention some of these steps and decisions?

PREUSS: I guess that's why I'm here, Bill. In thinking about it, and in going through some of the old records, and especially through the history work that Jim has done, I could see a number of things that occurred that pretty much dictated what the Society would be like. And at this Anniversary Meeting3, you can see the maturation of that, the adulthood of that. I already mentioned the '57 name change, which was a minor factor. In 1961, we started to develop a much closer relationship to the International Union4. In fact, the development of this happened a little bit earlier, when Dar Welch5 came to the Board and stated that the Union was having trouble locating a site for its next Congress. So the AVS volunteered to do this. This was done at Washington, D.C6. And this was probably one of the biggest meetings that we had up to that time. We were beginning to develop that kind of a relationship. So that was an early step that we took during that period. That was '61. We put out a Transaction. Again, it was just a Transaction as it was not an archival paper.

LANGE: I have to interrupt you, Luther. I remember that so well and the tremendous amount of work that you put into that. The meeting, the Transactions, the transcript of questions and answers by the participants-just a tremendous job.

PREUSS: The job was actually made much more difficult because our Transactions were published in England, which meant that everything had to go to England and come back and be looked at and, if we found an error, then go back to England or go back to the author. So, that was a hectic time, as you point out.

LANGE: Things were in the mail a good deal, too.

PREUSS: Yeah, a great deal. It's interesting that you bring that up. I guess you were one of the authors, weren't you?


PREUSS: In 1961, the American Vacuum Society instituted the first commercial Exhibit. That was at the Congress. And that was a big change for us. Those of us who were on the Board at the time remember that there was a lot of discussion about it. Should we have it, or shouldn't we have it? Some felt that it wouldn't be appropriate to have a commercial Exhibit. But in the end, the Board and the membership made a decision, and we now have a commercial Exhibit, which was the right decision. It's a benefit to our membership, and it's been a good thing for us to have. So this was another one of those items that came up during that period. 

If you go on to the next year, it's 1962. We instituted our first regional chapter. That was the start of a very important structure to our society, and I think it's contributed to our growth. Bill, I think that was California7, wasn't it?

LANGE: It was.

PREUSS: We now have a number of Chapters, all going strong. It's another one of the adolescent steps that we took, which I guess was the right step. Initially, one of us proposed exhibits. It really wasn't unanimously accepted, but everyone came around and we now have an Exhibit which is important to us. 

If you go to 1963, in that decade, I think one of the most important things that we did was our affiliation with the American Institute of Physics. You were around at that time, Bill. And you remember all the discussions that took place, both in committee meetings and so forth, and I think out in the membership, too, you know. Who should we affiliate with? The decision was finally made that we should go with the American Institute of Physics. Not because there were quite a few physicists in the Society, but just because it was the right thing to do. It's really benefited our Society. And again, if we hadn't made that decision, I think we probably wouldn't be the Society we are right now.

LANGE: It wasn't a totally unilateral one, though, as you recall.

PREUSS: Right.

LANGE: We had to convince them that they wanted us, too.

PREUSS: I wasn't going to bring that up, Bill, but probably, to be honest. [Chuckles]

LANGE: Jim Lafferty did a lot of that diplomacy.

PREUSS: As a matter of fact, we were not accepted as a member society initially in that year. We were an Affiliate, which doesn't put you on the same standing as the Physical Society and the Optical Society and so forth. But we did get in. We had access to all of their facilities, pretty much, and their expertise. And we had a foot in the door, so to speak, if we can use that term. Don't publish this with the AIP, but it was the right thing to do!

Then in '64 we formed our first division; that was Vacuum Metallurgy8. Since that time, other Divisions have come along. They've become an important part of our National Meeting, too, and a very important strengthening part of the Society. So again, this was something that was done in the '60s and was a proper step at that time. '64 was also a year in which something occurred. That was the last year that we published the Transactions. Up to that time, we had always had Transactions, which were not archival. In '64 and some prior years, we had publication by Pergamon Press, and I had alluded to the problems earlier in our discussion of the fact that the distance was a real problem. And there were some other problems, too, but I don't think this is the time to go into it.

LANGE: You want to mention the distance between... not between the US and England, but the US and Poland?

PREUSS: That's right. There were all kinds of problems. With '64, our Transactions ended, and that was our last issue. In 1965, the AVS moved to an archival journal9 published by the American Institute of Physics. That, again, was an excellent decision. This is a peer-reviewed journal and published by the AIP, and I think one of the very important changes that we made during that decade. We now have a Journal, which has grown to a great degree; a recognized Journal. So that goes back to '65. If we made the wrong decision then and stayed with Transactions, I think that would have hurt the Society. 

I didn't mention the fact that we also had to make a decision about the editor for that Journal. You remember that, Bill, because you were involved in that. There was a small committee. I think you were the chairman of that committee that went down to the University of Illinois and discussed this with Professor Alpert. We were trying to convince him to consider the role as editor on our budding journal. Again, this is one of these matters which had a lot of discussion at the AVS Board level. There were some individuals who felt that we should just assign somebody on the Board to do it. But again, I think the Board, after all this discussion, made the right decision. They tried to get somebody from a university who was recognized in the field. Had an outstanding record, as a matter of fact. We were fortunate enough to have Professor Alpert agree to this. 

I really should mention somebody else, though, when I mention Professor Alpert. We had another person there who, almost from the beginning, began to help with the editorial work, and that was Professor Propst. Although he wasn't what we would call the first editor, he eventually became our second editor, and I think he was carrying a good deal of the editorial work in the interim time. So, this, again, is something that happened in the '60s and something that was important to us, the fact that we chose a recognized scientist, somebody from a university with a background in the fields of interest. Our journal has grown from that point on. I have to jump to '68. When you come to '68, something that I think was fairly important occurred, and that's when another division came along, the Surface Science Division. We had divisions coming in up to this time, but we had a very energetic leader for that division, as you know. He convinced the AVS that there should be such a division, and that brought in a lot of basic scientists into the Society, and a lot of basic science and papers in our journal.

LANGE: A large number of papers and members.

PREUSS: Right, and members. That was certainly a strengthening factor. The other Divisions did the same thing, but we really had a surge there, I believe. This I put down with an asterisk because I felt that that was a very important step that occurred at that time: the basic science that came in, and the increase in membership by those individuals that were in that field.

Another matter, which you ordinarily might think of not being terribly important, but I think it also delineated the direction that we were going, was our first award that we developed. That was the Medard W. Welch Award, which was an award system that was originally an idea of Jim Lafferty. You probably remember that. He had instigated this, and a number of areas had been explored. But Dar Welch was, I don't remember whether he was a founder member, but a very early member and a very strong supporter of AVS. Also our delegate, the AVS delegate, to the International4 at that time. The Welch family had an institute, which actually granted some money for the establishment of this Award. This Award was for scientific achievement and, again, sort of sets our compass in the right direction. Now, of course, we have a whole series of awards, and at that meeting that we were at last night, we saw all of these awards. The Medard W. Welch Award was the first one, followed by all of the others.

LANGE: In your typical style, you're overly modest. I know how hard you worked with that Award in establishing it, and contact with Dar Welch and family. We're all indebted to you.

PREUSS: Well, that was a fun time, though, also. I knew it was the right thing to do, to start this process. I think a lot of credit has to go to Jim2 because he had the idea and had done some work on it initially. There was some discussion of having a different kind of award, but the funds to support it weren't available. We looked around and found this area, and it worked out very well. And that's a continuing award issued. Professor Comsa got that Award last night. That's very great. So, again, this was a delineating factor during that period.

I guess I have to go into the next decade just a little bit, in 1971, because something happened that was important. In 1971, we hosted for the second time in Boston the International Congress. Something happened there that I think was important both to the International4 and to the AVS. The meeting was to be a combination initially of our symposium-the AVS and Congress-sort of under that umbrella, two items under one umbrella. And the surface science people came in. I believe it was Charlie Duke who suggested that we add a third item under that conference, which was to have a surface science conference as part of that. So we did that.

LANGE: Charlie was a good salesman.

PREUSS: Very good. He was excellent. [Laughter] He was excellent. So, basically, this was important to the International because that was really the beginning for them to consider the structure that we were developing. We were developing the Divisions, and the Divisions had parts to play in our national meeting. There would be surface science papers, there would be thin film papers, etc., etc. Things of that kind. This was the first thing that the International considered, was surface science, and then they went from that basically to divisions, just like we have. So in a way, it was an important step for us to have that Surface Science Conference10 as part of the overall picture, but also for the International. I guess we have to be careful about patting ourselves on the back, but we were sort of leading in that at that time. That was important. That takes us, Bill, through the decade, except for one thing, which really started during the decade, but didn't mature until '76, and that's when we became a Member Society of AIP. We were a member of the AIP. We were then on equal status with some very exclusive societies: the American Physical Society.

LANGE: Shedding our sheepskin.

PREUSS: Right. Essentially, that's right. And so that pretty much covers the decade that I wanted to talk about. I haven't said too much about the IUVSTA4, but AVS did play parts in their development.

LANGE: And you did.

PREUSS: A bit, yes. So, we've gone through the decade.

LANGE: Okay. In your opinion, what made this period, with all these things, such a successful one? What was the secret of success here?

PREUSS: Well, before I answer that question, something just occurred to me that I'd like to talk about, which I think also, in a very subtle way, delineated what was going to happen and the direction that AVS was going to take. You remember this. Years and years ago, Bill, at our banquet, we had a head table.

LANGE: No, I don't remember that!

PREUSS: [Laughs] And that head table had a tradition. I'm not sure how it started, but somebody had started it, almost from the beginning, that everybody at that head table, including the honored guests and so forth, were to wear tuxedoes. So people who forgot to bring their tuxedo or didn't own one had to run around town and try to find one. You usually found one that had arms down to your elbows and no further, or the pants were too short. They're very uncomfortable to sit around in, and I believe some people called them monkey suits. It's possible, I think, at that time. But anyway, we had a rebel in our group at that time. He refused to do this. He said that that was not the thing to do, and he went out. That fellow's name was Bill Lange. And you know, as I said, in a subtle way, it sort of delineated what was happening to the Society. What it really said was that, in the Society, cosmetics were out. And science was on the ascendancy. Very subtle point, but I didn't want to pass that up. Bill Lange was that rebel, and Thank God for Bill Lange. I never liked sitting there in that suit. [Laughs]

LANGE: I had asked you a question there.

PREUSS: Oh yeah, I got off track, didn't I? Actually that was an easy question to answer. You wanted to know about the reason for the right decisions and the success that the AVS had during that period. And of course, you have to emphasize that it wasn't all unanimous, but in the end, a lot of good decisions were made. We have made some that weren't so good, but in the end, most of them were quite appropriate and worked out in the long run very well. The thing that I think made it a success was that so many of the people-the members of the Society, the committee members, the Boards, the Officers-they all seemed to put their personal agendas aside and move toward some kind of a proper goal. And that happened during that period. Initially, you might have a difference of opinion, but the proper one was reached a goodly part of the time. So that was one reason for the success. The other was that there was a lot of work put in by these people. It must have taken some of their time away from their careers, too. And you don't always find that in the various societies. Some people take these positions sort of as an achievement and then don't put anything into it, but then-- 

LANGE: Instead of a working job.

PREUSS: Right. We've had a tradition of volunteers in the AVS, and that's still going on. We're so big now that we have to have some commercial help and publication and so forth. But we still have that tradition. As long as we have that, I think that's going to be really very important.

LANGE: You, Luther, I just can't tell you how supportive and helpful and hardworking you've been through all of this, and that's just a key factor in that success. I wonder if you have any other personal comments or just general comments you'd like to make at this time.

PREUSS: Well, I haven't mentioned a lot of the names. I guess I might have mentioned your name, Bill, and Charlie Duke. But I tried to avoid listing all of the people who were important. 

1. CVT: Committee for Vacuum Technology, formed in 1953, became the American Vacuum Society in 1957
2. Jim Lafferty, who arranged and video-taped the interview
3. The interview took place during the 1993 Symposium, at which the 40th Anniversary of AVS was celebrated
4. The International Union for Vacuum Science, Technique and Applications
5. Medard W Welch
6. The 8th Annual Symposium of AVS and Second International Congress on Vacuum Science and Technology
7. The first chapter was the Pacific Northwest Chapter, formed in 1962
8. The Vacuum Metallurgy Division was formed in May, 1961
9. The Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology
10. First International Conference on Solid Surfaces

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