AVS Historical Persons | William J. Lange - 1993

William J. Lange - 1993

Oral History Interview with William J. (Bill) Lange

Interviewed by Paul Redhead, November 18, 1993
 
REDHEAD: We're at the 40th Anniversary Symposium of the AVS at Orlando. The date according to my watch is the 18th of November. We're very lucky to have Bill Lange with us who hasn't been around for quite a while, so we're very pleased to see him. He's agreed to be interviewed. My name is Paul Redhead, and I'm going to be interviewing Bill Lange, who has many claims to fame, but one of those claims is that for a long while he was very active in the Society and was President...what year was it, Bill?

lange.JPGLANGE: '69 about I think, if I remember reading last night.

REDHEAD: How did you get started in the vacuum business, Bill?

LANGE: In the vacuum business, kind of thing? Well, I went to graduate school at MIT and as a research assistant had to find some way to earn my keep. Professor Wayne Nottingham was a vigorous, active guy; he impressed me. He said why didn't I come to work here. He'd had some other students from Oberlin College, where I went. Working for Nottingham, you had to learn vacuum because everything he did involved vacuum. You had to learn to do your own glass blowing, to some degree at least. Also I was hard up for money and the glass blowers were friends of Nottingham; they were some of the people he recommended cultivating. I cultivated the glass blowers, and the glass blowers did outside work. They built McLeod gauges, and they needed somebody to calibrate them. It turned out I could earn a little money by calibrating McLeod gauges. So that was really my introduction to vacuum. From there I went to Westinghouse; I was impressed with Dan Alpert's work. At the Nottingham Conferences he was a regular attendee and presenter.

REDHEAD: Which was the first conference you went to? Do you remember?

LANGE: I guess it must have been the spring of '52. Nottingham had a way of running those conferences totally in his style, and he wasn't beyond telling people when they made mistakes or even when he thought they made mistakes. In particular, I was impressed, and everybody was surprised, at how complementary he was to this young-ish guy, Dan Alpert. He was obviously impressed with the gauge he'd come up with. Anyway, I wrote to Dan Alpert and asked him for reprints and asked him for some help on an omegatron, as I had built an omegatron and I didn't understand what I was getting. I hate to tell you how uninformed I was, but it had its peak at mass 12. I didn't know what mass 12 could be except carbon. It just didn't occur to me that it was a piece of CO. Nowadays we all know that CO is so ubiquitous, but I didn't know it was ubiquitous. Dan wrote back, very nice and helpful. Then I went to work for him.

REDHEAD: At Westinghouse?

LANGE: At Westinghouse, and I spent my whole career there. Dan was good to work for; he was very supportive, and I had a choice, as a matter of fact: work on masers (there weren't any lasers yet) or vacuum and support of controlled thermonuclear work. Controlled thermonuclear was going to become a commercial product in a few years! I thought that was exciting, so I went to work in that area.

REDHEAD: I presume that this was supported by the Department of Energy?

LANGE: Yeah, it was the AEC at that point in time. It was secret work; no reason for it to be secret, but it was. We got around to see what was going on at Los Alamos, and Livermore, Oakridge, and Princeton. Princeton in particular. It was exciting. That's how I got involved in vacuum.

REDHEAD: That was really a long experience in vacuum. What do you think your significant bits of business were?

LANGE: Not much, Paul, not really. As a matter of fact, I'm humbled and really somewhat embarrassed to be here. The kinds of things we worked on were initially on metal systems and valves, new valve designs, demountable valve designs, replaceable nodes, and demountable flanges.

REDHEAD: In fact, there was one of your demountable values at the history exhibit.

LANGE: Yeah, I saw it out there. It was kind of cute to see. Which reminds me, we even tucked a Teflon nose into one. That worked quite well, too. But Westinghouse didn't have any interest in the commercial development of it, so it didn't really get pushed. Probably out of the flange work, the Varian people really went to work on it and came up with the conflat flange.

REDHEAD: It was Wheeler and people like that?

LANGE: Yeah, Wheeler, right. Excellent work. So all I can say is that at best we stimulated them in a direction that benefited all of the rest of us. 

There is one other little story I could tell you about. I did some photo-desorption work. It was the first photo-desorption work, at least that I know of, and it wasn't very sophisticated at all. But I was out at the Stanford Linear Accelerator and they had a problem with the pressure rise when they turned the beam on. They were sure that it must have to do with this photo-desorption that they'd heard about. I plugged in some numbers and it obviously didn't account for the pressure rise. But I had heard about your work, Paul, in electron stimulated desorption, and it was clear to me that your numbers, your cross-sections, did fit their data. It was satisfying to, in a sense, solve their problem, or at least explain what their problem was. I think that's probably typical of the way I like to operate at Westinghouse, too; I like my satisfaction a little quicker than way down the road. Basic research requires that you be a patient soul and your rewards come after many, many hours and months and years of work. You know that only too well. I was perfectly happy to get my satisfaction on a more immediate basis working with the Westinghouse divisions. That's about it.

REDHEAD: So, when Dan left Westinghouse to go to Illinois, you stayed on?

LANGE: I stayed on and tried to carry on the work that he started in connection with this Project Sherwood, that controlled fusion work, and support of their big machines. We did that work for a few years, but really nothing dramatic. 

REDHEAD: How did you get started with the AVS? 

LANGE: I could go way back. As a matter of fact, in the 1954 Proceedings of the Committee on Vacuum Technique, Nottingham gave a paper there. A fellow by the name of Saul Eisenberg and I and a couple of graduate students had been given a job by Nottingham to work on these gauges and calibrate them, things like that. So, we took a lot down and we got some funny effects - walls charged up, things like that. We added an outer grid. Eventually the boss (that was Nottingham) thought that was a decent idea. He submitted a paper to this Committee on Vacuum Techniques. So my first connection there is recorded in the first transactions. I made the figures and Saul and I took the data. I made the figures; my printing is in that book among the figures. 

REDHEAD: Did you get to the meeting...?

LANGE: No, no, no. As a matter of fact, we didn't know about the meeting until after it happened!

REDHEAD: It was at Redbank or somewhere.

LANGE: It was at Asbury Park.

REDHEAD: Asbury Park, that's it.

LANGE: So, that was my first contact and I didn't even know it was happening. Then, I can't remember the exact year, but it really was through Luther Preuss. Luther is just a prince of a guy; he was so open to suggestions and I thought that what this Society needed were some invited papers by name people on topics that were current, were exciting, cutting edge of things. Luther was most receptive.

REDHEAD: How did you meet Luther? Do you know?

LANGE: No, I don't really remember how I met him, but he eventually took me to a Board meeting and said, "I'd like you to come to the Board meeting and give us some of your ideas." The board, to their credit, they were receptive to this upstart who thought he had a solution to the growth of the Society. They were nice to me, and I can remember some very amusing occasions. Then they asked me if I'd run for the Board of Directors. I remember getting a letter from Bill Scheuling that said...

REDHEAD: He was President at the time?

LANGE: I think he may have been President or he may have been Nominating Committee or something like that. He asked if I would consider running for the Board of Directors and said that he and others appreciated my pithy comments. I didn't know really how to take that. 

REDHEAD: Pithy is a useful word!

LANGE: I wrote back and said I wasn't sure he spelled the word right, but I was willing to run for the Board. Then together with Luther, we worked hard on publications and we went through an evolution and trials with the Pergamon Press and Captain Maxwell.

REDHEAD: This would be the proceedings of the annual meeting.

LANGE: Right. I was always bothered particularly by the fact that we didn't really referee the papers, and that bugged me. Luther also thought that we should have an archival, refereed publication. We gradually worked our way toward what became the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. One story I'll tell you that I remember so well, and you'll see why I remember it so well, we were at the AIP in November of 1963 talking with the AIP, Hugh Wolf and Ed Greeley and people like that, trying to see how they might publish this journal. We discussed what the name might be, things like that. While we were in a meeting, Ed Greeley came in and said, "President Kennedy has been shot." So, that made you remember.

REDHEAD: Everybody remembers where they were.

LANGE: Right. Anyway, then in the spring of '64 Luther and I went out to the University of Illinois. Because I knew Dan Alpert so well, it fell on me to help convince Dan that he would really help us; he would add some stature to the Society and get our journal going if he would agree to become the first editor, and he did. I consider that a turning point. Another turning point in the Society was getting you involved. I don't know if you remember that and if we really ought to talk about it. But anyway, I really admired Paul and his work. And he wasn't really a part of this Society, so I talked to him and he agreed to run for President. Naturally, he won and that was the beginning of, I think, getting some important people involved in the Society, and how many years later you're still busy here, Paul. 

REDHEAD: They were fun times. What do you see as the most significant part of your AVS business? Was it your year as President?

LANGE: No, no, no. 

REDHEAD: Was it your business with the journal?

LANGE: I think business with the journal was very important. But I also kind of feel that because of my background I was always more in favor of informality. I think informality enables easier communications, so I worked in various ways.

REDHEAD: Tell your story about finally persuading the Society not to wear dinner jackets at the head tables of the banquet. I think you were probably the moving force.

LANGE: It wasn't a matter of persuasion at all, Paul; it was a matter of just plain, stubborn resistance. 

REDHEAD: I remember you turning up at these banquets and refusing to wear a tuxedo and being the only person in the official photograph with a lounge suit on.

LANGE: There is a picture down there in the history exhibit of everybody in tuxes, and they took that when I had excused myself to go to the Men's Room. I'm not in that one. I think it's like '64 or so. Anyway, I still believe that's a way to have a typical member feel more accessible to the Board, to the Officers: if they don't set themselves apart in a formal way like that. 

REDHEAD: Nowadays they wear funny hats.

LANGE: Yeah, more power to them.

REDHEAD: So, after all of these accomplishments, you are a gentleman of infinite wisdom. Have you any pearls you would like to leave before the end of the interview?

LANGE: As you know very well Paul, I always have opinions. I have a strong feeling about-- I think every person and every life is very important, but on the other hand, there are very few people who are very important. I feel, and I tried to do this with the AVS and with my job, that was to get in, work hard, and get out. I really think that you shouldn't hang on, and you should retire gracefully, and only do those things that are really needed and not take jobs away from the next generation. I feel strongly there are too many people in our country who can't give up and they're really taking jobs away from the younger generation, if not jobs, opportunities to grow. That's my words of wisdom.

REDHEAD: Well, thank you Bill. That really was great fun.

LANGE: Thank you Paul.

REDHEAD: Over the years we've had a good deal of fun together in this place. 

LANGE: [Chuckles] Thank you.

return to top