John Andelin took a long and winding career path that culminated in his service as Assistant Director of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (Ret.) Operating at the highest levels in national science policy from the Carter to Clinton administrations, Andelin drew on his broad scientific and research career that began in the early 1950s as an undergraduate at Caltech.
At Caltech, Andelin was able to take classes from luminary professors including Linus Pauling and Richard Feynman, and after a brief graduate school stint at Stanford, he decided to return to Caltech to pursue a thesis project on helium and superconductivity. Andelin balanced his responsibilities as Resident Associate of Ricketts house, and his memories provide a vivid look at Caltech's house system from an earlier time. Following his defense, Andelin took a job continuing his helium research for Ford Motor Company at Newport Beach. Andelin found this to be an interesting experience, but he longed to return to an academic environment.
After a formative visiting position at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Andelin joined the research staff at Harvard Observatory, which had a major role in the NASA SkyLab mission. After realizing that Harvard's research culture was quite different from Caltech's, Andelin considered a more significant career move, which led ultimately to his involvement in science policy matters in Washington DC, where he worked in consulting and eventually for the Office of Technology Assessment. In this role, Andelin had a hand in numerous science policy matters, and he recalls a spirit of bipartisanship between Democrats and Republicans. He highlights his innovations in technology assessment as one of his most lasting achievements on the Hill.
In retirement, Andelin has remained active in refugee and other volunteer opportunities, and to the extent possible, he remains an active and interested Caltech alumnus.
DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Thursday, August 11, 2022. I am very happy to be here with Dr. John Andelin. John, it's so great to be with you. Thank you so much for joining me today.
JOHN ANDELIN: It's my pleasure.
ZIERLER: To start, would you please tell me your most recent title and institutional affiliation?
ANDELIN: Assistant Director of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.
ZIERLER: When did you retire?
ZIERLER: What have you been doing? What have been some of your main interests in retirement?
ANDELIN: My wife, by then, had been resettling refugees from the Vietnam War and others coming in. She started doing that about 1979. And she was bringing the kids home on weekends, summers, and vacations to be part of an American life. They had parents, but when they went back to their parents, they could compare the two lifestyles. The parents generally were totally uneducated in their country, very much out of order here in the United States, and the kids were being taught, basically, "boys do whatever they please, and girls do whatever the boys want them to. And you don't need any education at all. If you're really desperate, learn about money." We wanted not to tell the parents that was wrong, but to let the kids see that a couple with education had a different life than their parents, and that we had learned to be, I think, pretty equal partners.
We had different assignments within the house, the finances, and the business of a marriage, but we shared. When we disagreed, we had learned to disagree pretty comfortably. And we really wanted the kids to see that. It was really a matter that we wanted to give them more experience in another house, go to the park, go fly a kite, go out to the country, see a cow, whatever it might be. Do something, otherwise they were in a ghetto apartment complex, living in the basement, doing nothing. She started bringing them home, and she got very much more involved. By '93, she was invested in Arlington's refugee community heavily, still Prince George's County, a little bit Montgomery County. She was the greater Washington person and was eventually honored for it as Washingtonian of the year.
I became, in a sense, her tagalong, her executive assistant. The difference is, if I knew what she was doing, and I knew the kids, of course, when the phone rang, "Hey, Ginger, I need . . . "–instead of "Ginger's not home," I could say, "I know what you're looking for. Can I help?" Or, I could explore deeper, then when she came home, I could complete it. I became, in a sense, an executive assistant to my wife in this informal social structure we had with many, many families. It was a busy time, and I enjoyed that. I would not have done just that, didn't intend to, so I then volunteered with the Smithsonian for a while. That was because we'd been doing science fairs with kids in Prince George's County. My usual impression of science fairs is, they're poor to disaster. Poor instructions; poor judging.
Kids who like science don't seem to need them–I never had one, and when I started complaining about it, I asked all my Caltech friends, Dave Goodstein and Bob Sharp, "Did you ever do science fair projects?" "No, I never did those things." Talked to the people at NSF, "No, I never did those things. But they're really good." They could be, but that wasn't my experience. I was aware of that and complaining to myself and to Prince George's County. The Smithsonian at that time was putting together science kits to send out to schools, made up of very inexpensive objects. You could put the kits together for $8 or $10, and they had pretty good science in them. I went to volunteer there for a while, and that was probably two days a week. I enjoyed it, and I liked the team.
Even so, people don't always teach or think about science the way I do. I've got a good memory, but I never thought that memorizing things was learning things. There was some memory in the kits, but they were hands-on, so I was very happy to do it. I had to break off because my dad got sick, and family illness meant I dropped everything, except helping my wife.
One of the refugee kids was 12 or 13 by then and very much needed orthodontia. We said, "We'll take care of that." We took her to the orthodontist, who said, "That sounds good. Go get some teeth pulled." We did, then we looked at each other and said, "What if we're hit by a truck tomorrow? Here's a kid with parents with no education or money, missing a bunch of teeth, and there's nobody around to help." We went to an estate attorney and had our will done, and that turned out to be somebody who said, "Why aren't you on the Arlington Community Foundation board?" "What's the Community Foundation?" "It's this." I said, "Sure, I'll join."
It has a nine-year term limit, and with a break of one year, I've been on 20, 22 years, something like that. It has been a struggling community foundation for the better part of that, did okay, then didn't, did okay, then didn't. And because I'm the longest-serving member of the board, and had been an officer, and had actually been president for a couple years, when it got into a slump on my way out, I was able to go into the office, I knew the files, I knew how to do things, I knew the players who would help, so I got the other board members in. And on a couple of other times, we bailed. It wasn't going to fail necessarily, not if they hired somebody, but it was in trouble for two or three months at a time, then for the next year or so.
That happened again four years ago, and this time, there were many board members who wanted to pitch in and keep it going, and it was much stronger by then. It had a pretty substantial $20-million base, which isn't bad. My efforts were to keep the thing running. A couple of the board members, our president and others, decided to go to a headhunter to get somebody to run it. It turned out we got an interim and a final executive director, and between those two, it's now a very strong organization. This will be my ninth year of my second and a half term, so I'm bailing out. I don't know how I'll feel about it because I've been integral for over 20 years. At the same time, it's grown up, it's no longer a teen, it's a functioning adult organization that's looking stronger every day. I'm supposed to let go. I should've let go 15 years ago by my own principles, but I couldn't do it because it needed help. That's kept me very busy.
I've joined advisory committees to the school or the county, and whatever else is needed to help the community. And we still have an exceptionally large extended family. Once you've got that number of people that look to you as an American aunt, uncle, grandparent, parent, or whatever, there are issues all the time. We spend a good deal of time on the phone or in person, sometimes by email, with our kids. And the kids are now anywhere from fresh born to about 50. It's very rewarding. Because we're connected in our own community with a lot of people, we know where the resources are, so when we can't help someone, we know who can. We have this stable of counselors and therapists they go to, physical therapy, exercise classes, doctors. I tend to wind up being the financial advisor when they have questions. To our disappointment, they'll often come in and ask for advice, and when it's all done, they'll say, "I'm glad, because we've done it already. We bought the house. We just wanted your opinion." That took an hour of talking about the pros and cons of buying the house, what the mortgage looks like. And they say, "Well, it's all done."
Staying Close to Caltech
ZIERLER: In light of your deep connections to Caltech that go back so many years, how did those connections change when you retired? Would you say they deepened?
ANDELIN: I never lost touch with a couple dozen of the kids from Ricketts House, primarily because I lived with them, and half a dozen with my class or so. Most of those stayed in the neighborhood. I've moved, so they would inform me about what's going on at Caltech often, and I've got the news and publications ever since I graduated. I stayed knowledgeable about it. And by making donations, you get a couple extra newsletters a year. I don't think retirement as such had much to do with it. I live on the wrong coast to drop in on any Associate events or go to a tour of JPL. I had seen JPL back when. I don't think the relationship deepened. It's more an emotional attachment than a knowledge attachment. I know enough of what it's doing, and I pay attention. I don't understand some of the science, of course.
I don't have any colleagues still on campus that I know of. All the faculty I knew are older than I am, and I'm old, so they're gone, have moved to retirement homes, or something like that. I have only a couple classmates I know in the neighborhood. Some of the Ricketts people are still around. But as my personal assets increased, and I was able to increase donations some, I got more direct contact from Caltech. There was a push, not a pull, not a seek. I don't look on the website for things, I don't look up old alumni. I have not generally thought of reunions myself. But I keep in touch with the people I knew and liked. Going to a reunion, they probably won't be there. If they are, I know and like them and am already in communication. And the other ones have different interests. If I were lonely, I'd go in a minute or if I were still employed and looking for employees. There's a hundred reasons to go to a good reunion at Caltech. But for me, it would only be social. And after I worked in Congress, it changed what I needed to know.
I just had a meeting at noon today, I'm chairing data committee for one of the advisory groups for the county and the schools. I was able to say, "There are different kinds of data. Did you know there are 5,000 spoken languages today?" "Oh, that's interesting." "Did you know the earth is 25,000 miles around?" "Oh, that's interesting." "That's the wrong reaction. The data I'm looking for is, 'Oh, really? Then, I should tell somebody to do something.' I'm looking for the action item." That was probably less clear to me earlier, though I think it's probably been with me for a long time, but I don't think I noticed that so clearly until I was at Harvard and didn't like the way they were going about a NASA contract.
I have felt next-door to Caltech in my mind ever since I got there. I left Stanford in a hurry because I broke up with a girlfriend and therefore, didn't want to stay, and it was the wrong season to go anywhere else. I asked Caltech, "Can I come back for my graduate degree?" and they said yes. Why would I ask that if I didn't like my previous four years in undergraduate? I really felt bonded. And because of the freedom I had to learn the way I liked to learn, the support I got from Norm Davidson when I said, "What can I do this summer with my home chem lab?" and he said, "Forget it, I'm hiring you," the whole environment gave me the persona that I've been able to use over my career.
And when you say retirement, I find it funny because I don't feel retired ever, and I never planned to as such. My plans have never worked out. I was going to be a faculty member at some university, and when I had the opportunity, I turned it down because by then, my interests were slightly different, and I moved on from there.
UCLA would probably have given me the same quality technical education, but the environment was different. I'd have been more a number. I wouldn't have known the faculty because the classes are all too big. It would've been a streetcar school. I wouldn't have gone back necessarily for graduate school, and I wouldn't have had a chance to be a student leader. My record doesn't look like the naive teen that I was when I was 16 or 17 because I've done things since that looked like I took chances. It was only that Caltech has so many opportunities to be head of the glee club, on the board of the Y, president of this, secretary of that. I had some roles that were semi-leadership that I wouldn't have had at UCLA. It's not that one school's better than the other, it's that Caltech fit me.
And when people ask me about going to Caltech, I'm very careful to point out, "It's got to fit you. You can't just be fairly smart. That won't do the job. You have to accept the likelihood that you'll get a bad grade." Because the kids that normally go to Caltech have never had a bad grade.
In my own class, the ones who dropped out were very capable, but they didn't like C's or maybe even D's, and they just couldn't handle it emotionally. They bailed. My class had a huge attrition rate. We were one of the first classes that got a new entrance test. I think it'd always been a Caltech test, and we may have been the first class with SATs, and they didn't interpret them very well. We had a lot of dropout. But again, I've always been close with Caltech, and I've always recognized it to be one of the major influences of my life. And the faculty were. Norm Davidson certainly changed my future.
The humanities faculty really pushed me to go outside my boundaries. I liked math, physics, and chemistry, and they kept saying, "You've got to learn about literature, history, philosophy." It was terrible. But have I used it in my life? Yeah. Would I have missed it? Yeah. They were wonderful. And you get to know them personally, of course. Go to Harvey Eagleson's house for wine in the evening to take a small seminar with seven people. That's a very rich experience. When I was a graduate student, Professor Feynman would come by and ask what we were doing with helium, and, "By the way, can we go have lunch?" It's an unusual school, and it couldn't have fit me any better. It probably molded me as much as it fit me. I don't know.
ZIERLER: Before we go back and develop your personal narrative and family background, I'd like to ask an overarching question that will connect the earlier to the latter parts of your career. What were the process, interest, and opportunity that compelled you to transition from a scientific life to a science-policy life?
ANDELIN: My wife is laughing. When I talk about my personal life, I tell people that what happened to me was, something occurred of apparently no consequence, really, and it redirected my life in ways I hadn't expected. The one that goes to the science policy? It's funny you say science policy because when I was Congressional staff and was asked to give a speech about science policy, I asked my colleague, "What's that?" and he said, "That's what you're doing." Again, naive. I was running a subcommittee at that time.
Earlier, I worked at Ford Motor Company in Newport Beach with liquid helium. I had played with liquid helium by then for a dozen years and was doing good research, and I really enjoyed it. And there's nothing wrong with living at Newport Beach. It was good. There were a dozen of us as part of Aeronutronics. They were our host. We had our own lab, but we used their cafeteria, procurement, and such. Ford said, "No, we want to move some of you back to Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, and let the others of you go. We'll give you a year's warning."
I was invited to go back to Dearborn. Newport Beach and Dearborn, Michigan, are very different. I told Ford, "I'm doing very basic research in helium, and I understand that the helium work and the Josephson junction work you think of as anti-submarine warfare more than basic science, but it's basic science. What do I do if I move back?" "Don't worry, we'll find something you like." Well, if that isn't a way of saying, "Worry, we're not going to tell you," I don't know what is. They wouldn't tell me what it would be. I asked friends about living there, and they said, "You probably want to live in Ann Arbor. That's a much more exciting town. You've got the school there." I said, "That's a good idea." Without turning Ford down flat, I started exploring whether or not I could be adjunct at the University of Michigan. Somewhere down the line, it struck me, "If I'm thinking of doing something in a university, which I thought of years before, why am I limiting it to the University of Michigan because Ford wants me to move where I don't want to move?" I stopped the negotiations and said to Ford, "Forget it. Thank you, no."
My work was, at that point, very challenging and very frustrating, which is a different story. I really worked up to the last day I was working at Ford, pretty much, trying to get some closure to a very hard experiment. It just wasn't working. I had nothing to do that June. Another friend of mine from Caltech had gone to Harvard as a research associate of some sort, and he said, "I'm working on solar physics, and I need some help this summer. You don't have a job, so why don't you come to Harvard with me for the summer?" Harvard's good. Never been to Massachusetts before, never had that much seafood before, never been at Harvard with all the Harvard foofaraw. I said, "Of course." I was under contract there as an itinerant worker. We were in Cambridge, we were in California, and we were in Tucson because we were working with the McMath Solar Telescope for part of our research, and we were going back and forth from California to Harvard for a NASA contract.
There were two or three things we were doing at once. As the summer wore on, I just wound up buying into that operation. I got back to California, often enough to see my family and my old friends. I got to Tucson and Kitt Peak, which was fun. We were working inside a latticework of all kinds of structure, and you're down in the basement of a big facility, you're up at the top. It was monkey bars, and science, and cutting-edge. We were looking at the magnetic fields of sunspots, trying to predict solar flares, trying to help the scientists tell the astronauts how not to get cooked in space. It was really good. Got to do some travel, give speeches, write papers. I liked that. The problem was, I thought many of the faculty in the Harvard Observatory at that point, who were reputable and had done wonderful work, were in sort of on-the-job retirement. They weren't putting in the effort I thought they should.
A couple of them were exploiting graduate students. One graduate student had failed his qualifying three years in a row, and he was up to about six years of graduate school and still failing, but he should've passed in year one or two. He was cranking out data and papers like crazy. And he got kicked out. My theory then was that if a faculty member has a graduate student that gets kicked out, they get a checkmark by their name, and if they have two checkmarks, they have to discuss it with the president, faculty, or provost. Three checkmarks, and they go find another job. The faculty are responsible for those graduate students. If the kid wasn't good enough, he should've been let go before six years. I didn't like that. And then, we had an opportunity to bid on Orbiting Solar Observatory J, and Harvard had the contract for H or I, one of the earlier ones. We were doing conceptualizing on what would go into the new satellite.
And I said, "I'm new to this game. I don't know solar physics nearly well enough. What can we do that will test any theory and sort between competing theories? How can we edge towards knowing something new, not just get the pixels a little closer together or get marginally better measurements? What can we do to change it?" Their answer was, "We're too far from that at this point. All we need to do is get the contract again." I wasn't saying, "Let's do something that's going to lose the contract." I said, "Let's look first to see if there is something." It was dismissed, as other stories might be, as I've seen things in Congress dismissed. "Good policy. No, we're not doing that." That's what this was.
I was no longer part of the design team. That was fine, I had lots to do. Turned out, the proposal went in, and I was one of the people on the proposal. The proposal was honored, and they happened to forget to invite me to the party. I was persona non grata as far as the team was concerned, but they were still using me as part of the project team. If we got the project, and if I'd stayed at Harvard, I would've been happy to do it. And I didn't leave out of hurt feelings, I left because I thought the faculty weren't doing what they should be doing, which was better science. It felt like they just wanted to get the contract again. I didn't like what they did to graduate students. And there are several more items. I chose to resign. It was one of the funniest meetings I've had because that's when they asked if I wanted to be on a tenure track. And I said, "No, I'm really resigning. I'm going to go fix NASA."
We were working with NASA on other projects, including this Skylab. We got down to Huntsville, and they were talking about this launch. Kodak was saying, "The film has to be refrigerated, or it'll go opaque." "No, the food goes in the fridge, the film gets loaded a week before, in Florida, in the summer." Kodak said, "It's got to be at refrigeration temperatures." "We don't care." NASA was saying flat-out, "We don't care."
The reason we were going to the California desert was to test the pointing telescope for Skylab's, I think, three, bore-sighted instruments, infrared, ultraviolet . . . . These wouldn't see the sunspots; our H-Alpha Telescope would. We could aim at exactly the spot on the sunspots we wanted to know everything about, infrared, ultraviolet, whatever. My colleague found out that the filters used to narrow the sunlight to H-Alpha for the pointing telescope would sunburn. The main filter was going to get black if it was exposed to the sun. He was saying, "If you launch this with these filters, you won't find the sun" (which wouldn't really matter because the film would already be exposed because it wasn't in the fridge). And NASA was saying, "We don't care. Fix it before it launches, or we launch anyhow."
That may not have been the high-level NASA staff, but it was the ones we worked with who were pretty far up the chain. They had what appeared to be the authority. That was so frustrating to me that, in effect, I said, "I'm going to go do something about NASA. That's wrong. I'm going to go complain somewhere." And I don't know what else came in my mind, but it was, "I think I'll go be a Congressman." I didn't know the White House from the Capitol.
I had a summer off after I left Harvard to find out what that difference was. I went home to my folks in Southern California and learned a lot more about government. I discovered that I couldn't use their address, and I couldn't use a Massachusetts address because I'd never really been a resident there. I had to move somewhere in the country. "That's a lot of effort. Maybe I'll find out what Congress is like first." That's when I tried to volunteer.
A couple of my colleagues at the Observatory back then who were quite young have done exceptional work since. One of the graduate students, I'm still in touch with, and he's done very fine work as has one of the very young faculty members. Had I stayed, they'd have been my personal colleagues. But I just couldn't do it, it just wasn't right. I wanted to fix NASA. That was a pull. And the Harvard College Observatory was a bit of a push, so it wasn't hard to leave.
I didn't have a wife or kids at that time. I had two stable parents with a home. They were still young enough that I could go live with them for a while. There was no risk. And I'd only been out of low-temperature about three years by then. If Congress didn't work out, I was going to check in with my colleagues. I had no question that there'd be an opportunity for me to go back and work as a scientist. Quitting Harvard wasn't a risk.
All my colleagues thought I was crazy, and the ones who didn't know me said, "Oh, you couldn't make it in science." I think I could. I don't think I'd have been really successful in science management. I don't like writing proposals, and I really like doing the work. Same in Congress. I learned quickly I didn't want to be a Congressman, I wanted to be senior staff. That was where the work was. I didn't want the photographs, the hand-shakes, a reputation. I wanted to be the one who made the mistakes if there was a mistake and give the credit to the Congressmen when something worked, because I had stuff to do. I think writing proposals is how you get to be the senior professor with your own lab, four graduate students, six post-docs. I think I'd have been the perennial good tech.
ZIERLER: Let's go all the way back to the beginning now. I want to start with your parents. Tell me about them.
ANDELIN: Uneducated, except my mom was bright, my dad was an inventor. My mom was pulled out of school when she was 15 or 16, my dad finished going to high school but didn't get a degree because he had courses he hadn't passed. Ironically, I think it was chemistry. I didn't know that, and my first interest in science was chemistry. I think he probably thought of that as pretty weird. My mom was first generation. Her parents had come from Germany. She was conceived in Germany and born here. Didn't speak English until she went to school, and as a result, her English was flawless, and all of her cousins had thick German accents because they learned it from their parents. She did it right. My grandmother just wouldn't teach her English, so she got to school and learned English. I think she went to 11 separate schools, some of them more than once, because her mom didn't really like her. She'd pawn her off on aunts, uncles, and strangers. Any time she got sick, she got sent to somebody else.
My mom almost never lived with her mother, and her mother and father got divorced very young. She didn't meet her father until she was 13 or so. And that's because a stepfather was starting to think about abusing her, so she ran away from home. After three or four months in the Chicago Home for the Friendless, her dad was found somewhere in Wisconsin and came down to pick her up. "This man is your father. You're going home with him." She left them, too, because his wife, her stepmother, was saying, "We can't really afford you. You're a nuisance." She left a year later. At 14, she came back to Chicago and lived with aunts, uncles, and cousins. With that kind of childhood, I think she was aggressively pleased to meet my dad and have a strong relationship with him for the next 60-some years. She wasn't going to let go of him. I think that's the reason I had the childhood I did. Because hers was so disrupted, she made mine straightforward. I lived in a house, lots of people and relatives around. I wouldn't say it was idyllic. There were certainly issues. We didn't have any money. There was the Depression.
But it was close to idyllic in my own mind. I don't remember a trauma of consequence. My dad was interested in things. He was a tinkerer. Even as a young child, he was the one responsible for fixing the family house, plumbing, electric, carpentry, fixing cars. He liked cars and motorcycles. He was born in a small town in Utah, and it had just recently become a state. I think he drove when he was 7 or 8. Had to put blocks on his feet or the pedals, but he did because he wanted to drive. He liked to drive from that point until the day he died as far as I know. He'd drive anywhere any time given an excuse. He was the mechanic. Uneducated engineer, I would say. He went to a school in Chicago called Lane Tech, a technical high school for the CTE-type kids. He learned welding, carpentry, electricity at a high school level. He did that on and off for the rest of his life. He became an inventor at one of those companies where you'd get a buck for your invention. But he got them.
My mom had a big jar of his inventions he got a buck apiece for. I probably still have it somewhere in the basement. He was part of a team of three, four, five male friends. They would have parties all the time once they were married. Typically, to my advantage socially, the parties were almost always at our house for whatever reason, and when they weren't, I tagged along. They were dragging me everywhere from the time I was born. My mom never worked after she was 17 or 18. She worked for a little while in that timeframe until she got married. My dad came from a generation that said wives don't work, they stay at home with the kids. Again, because his life had been so disrupted. He'd been in Utah, Canada, New York, Chicago, and not always with his parents because they were opera singers who went all over Europe and the US, so he didn't have a stable childhood either. I think the two of them, without saying it, decided I was going to have a stable childhood, and to do that, my mom was staying home. She didn't work, he did.
We never were hungry. We had a lot of Friday spaghetti dinners. The depression was pretty thin for us. My dad never made much money, but he almost always worked. He took whatever job there was to keep going. And it was enough. For a while, my grandparents were able to provide a little support for rent. But wages then were $.35 an hour for her, when she was working. My first job was $.75 an hour. But rent would be $20 or $30 a month, so it'd be 100 hours' work for rent maybe at the most. There was no income tax at those wages. You could kind of do it. We did. I never had a sense that money was a problem.
ZIERLER: When did you start to get interested in science?
ANDELIN: Can't remember that far back. I know when I was 9, between June and Christmas, I said, "I want a chemistry set." I honestly don't know if I knew what chemistry sets were. There was a pharmacist in the family, but he was overseas in the war, and I didn't see him at that time. The only thing I'd heard about him was that he was an alcoholic. I don't know where the idea of chemistry came from. It could've been the back of Field and Stream or True Detective, the magazines in the barbershops. From the time I was 2, 3, 4, instead of being bored or looking around, I read things. Backs of milk cartons, newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries. You'd go to the barbershop, and they'd have magazines for me. I didn't want the sex ads in the back, so I'd look at something else. I probably saw Chemcraft, an ad for chemistry sets, and it said, "Wow," in big letters or something. I don't know. I asked for it, and my folks didn't know well enough to not give a 9-year-old a chemistry set.
In those days, a chemistry set was not what you get today. It had in it chemicals you do not want kids to have. They didn't know that formaldehyde, borax, or mercury were bad. The set was very clear about washing your hands. Didn't even say safety glasses. Magnesium powder, you'd throw that in the flame. Little bit's a nice bright light. A spoonful, and I was blind for half the day. It was too bright. I didn't know. It was fun. "A little bit is bright. How much more can I put in?" That was the first mistake I can remember doing in science where I endangered something. If I had a handful of magnesium, it would've been disastrous. I had a spoonful because it came in these little wooden containers. No plastic in those days. Everything was glass, wood, or metal. It was me. I played with it until I graduated Caltech in 1955. From '43 to '55, I was doing chemistry. I became a physicist three years before the end of that, but I continued working for Norm Davidson until I graduated. I liked his lab, I liked him, I liked the fellow graduate students. It was a really wholesome environment for me.
ZIERLER: Growing up, did you know about Caltech? Was that a place you were interested in going to even when you were younger?
ANDELIN: No. Not at all. I was in Chicago as a kid until I was 14, and neither I nor my parents thought I'd go to college. It was out of range. They hadn't finished high school, and they were very happy it looked like I would. I was a very good student. I was not thinking college. I don't remember that I ever really did until junior year in high school.
I was in the wrong high school according to the district's rules, but it was the right high school for me. It couldn't have been a better school for who I was at that point in my life. A teacher who had just finished with his teaching degree in chemistry came out on the GI Bill, and it was his first class. This was a Jewish high school, which helped me a lot because I wasn't, almost everybody else was, and I learned how to fit in. It worked wonderfully. I still have one friend left from there. One died earlier this year. It was a great experience. In this class, there were a number of young men and women who'd been told, "You're going to be doctors or lawyers. But if you're going to be a doctor, you want to take chemistry class."
We were doing well in chemistry, and this teacher recognized that there were about eight of us breezing through his high school chemistry class. He said, "All right, guys. How about an after-school club?" "Sure, something else to do." We went, and he gave us UCLA's freshman class curriculum. We basically, that year, finished a year of college chemistry. Close to it, with only a few modifications. Those were the days of slide-rule and log-table chemistry. The chemistry itself was 90% inorganic, which is very easy to memorize and learn. It's straightforward, and the math is easy. Organic chemistry's a whole new ballgame. Right hand, left hand, up, down. Carbon's too flexible. Somewhere around spring, he said, "There's an American Chemical Society contest for California. I'd like us to enter a team." We did. I came in first, and I was offered a scholarship to Caltech. I said, "Sure, good."
I told my folks, and my mom said, "Oh, yes, I know about Caltech. It's a really good local school." That was her comment. "If you don't go there, you'll go to UCLA." "Fine." I went to my high school, and said, "I've actually got all the classes necessary except gym. Can I graduate a year early? I'd like to go to Caltech." "No, you can't. You have to take gym." I said, "I'll take it in the summer. I'll hire somebody. Anything." "No, you can't." I had an extra year of high school where the only required course was gym, which postponed Caltech for a year. Somewhere in that process, I learned that getting the scholarship didn't mean I was accepted. I didn't know you had to apply to Caltech. "I got a scholarship, I'm going to Caltech." I'm serious about being naive. I did not have parents who knew the system.
That's why my wife and I have spent so much time with the refugee and immigrant kids trying to make sure they know the US system for getting ahead in our educational and employment world. They've got to know to apply to a school, or you're not going to get in. You've got to pay attention to deadlines. I didn't know about that. Anyhow, I did the application, and I got in. Neither of my folks, nor I, really thought I'd go to college until I won the California contest. I think our team came in first, and one of the other students came in third. Our teacher gave us a background that wasn't really fair. It's like taking steroids for an athletic contest. We had a chemistry class no other high schools did. And we were all happy to do it. Many of the kids in that class, I knew over the years, and one was head of the Minnesota Red Cross, one was a major doctor at NIH. They fulfilled his hopes.
And I stayed in touch with him until he was 102. He changed my life. It was an accident we moved to California from Chicago, it was an accident I went to the wrong high school, it was an accident he'd just started teaching, and that I was in a class with a bunch of medical people, so we formed the club, and that I won the contest and wound up at Caltech. There are a number of things I can point to, without any one of which, I'd have gone to some local school in Chicago.
With the extra year in high school, it was as interesting, I took gym, of course. But I also took wood shop and other random subjects. Woodworking became a hobby and gave me the first mechanical work. Chem lab is not mechanical, it's test tubes, weighing, and whatnot. Wood shop is physical structures. It gave me a different kind of engineering and science experience, just by accident. I'd have never taken wood shop, except I had nothing else to do for a year.
I graduated in the middle of the year, then went to community college, and that was not a success. The teachers were not very good. But that extra semester [in high school] probably helped my life. It gave me a hobby I've enjoyed for 70-some years, some skills, some recognition of danger. Our shop teacher had a knack of saying, "If you do this wrong, here's what's going to happen." And they were scary demonstrations. [Laugh] They got your attention. Very loud, very big bangs, very nasty thoughts. I still have ten fingers, and I've done a lot of woodworking. I may not have them next week. But I learned to be careful, to think ahead, not to take shortcuts on safety. And that was valuable in chem labs, and it's valuable just doing electricity around the house.
Early Campus Impressions
ZIERLER: What were your first impressions when you arrived on campus at Caltech?
ANDELIN: Before that is Frosh Camp. Scared me to death. There were so many students who were so bright and so accomplished, I thought I was in the wrong place. At the same time, there were faculty who were so smart, but sharing their smarts and talking about things so excitedly made it sound so much fun that even though I was scared, I thought, "Well, that's okay. I'm giving it a try." Lee DuBridge gave a phenomenal presentation that was a tour de force of what was going on on campus and cutting-edge science across the board. I think he was really smart, but if not, he memorized incredibly well because it was a gorgeous presentation. You talk about motivational speakers. "I wanted some of that." I had friends already by the end of the few days we were there. This was up in the mountains in those days. I don't know what they're doing for Frosh initiation now.
I quickly developed friends, there was a free ping pong table, and I could play that as much as I wanted if I could win; we played frisbee. Or something like that. Frisbee may not have been invented yet. I liked the social part, I was just afraid of the other kids. What I learned not too long after was that a lot of the high-flyers couldn't take being average or below average, which half the class was, and they left. Most of us, I think, even then, acquired the idea that we weren't competing with each other. We set our own milestones and goalposts. We were competing with who we were that day and trying to be better tomorrow. If the other guy's better, ask him questions. If they're not as good, give him a hand. That wasn't universally done, but it got to be a sentiment that many of us lived with on campus. I didn't compare myself, I helped if I could, and that really worked. I was probably sold on the campus within weeks.
Our chemistry teacher was Linus Pauling. It was a class of 170 or so by that time. But Linus was not just a smart chemist, biologist, physicist, he was a showman. He and Feynman were the entertainers of Caltech in those days. Going to his chemistry class was wonderful. Because I had had a chemistry background better than most of the other kids at Caltech, I thought his lectures were wonderful. Many of the kids thought they were too hard. But that gave me an interesting piece of confidence that I could then apply to the other classes that were not as easy for me. Thank you, Mr. Toon, my high school chemistry teacher. That's why I say, funny things in life can make huge differences later, and you don't know where they are.
Before I went there, the year after I'd been accepted and had to finish high school, I went to the high-voltage lab, and one of the demonstrations then, in addition to the normal ones that'd get your hair standing on end, they had something that looked like a telephone pole 20 feet long between electrodes, then whacked it with high voltage, and it just fell into splinters. I'm exaggerating, but it was one big explosion experiment.
What's more fun than something like that? The detailed science, the knowledge base, and the fact that you could do things that were flashy, too–it was entertaining and intellectually challenging, and it didn't take more than a few weeks before I was doing homework with kids and learning, "If I skip, he's the one who goes. If he skips, I'm the one who goes," because we'd share homework. The flexibility of the classes was great, though I went to most. I was not a class-cutter, but when I had something else to do, I did. And I always had somebody else who would help me with what we learned then. As you know, working as a team often teaches you because you're learning at the same time, so I learned that teaching is how you learn. Some of the students, within the first month or so, became lifetime friends.
ZIERLER: Was Linus Pauling approachable?
ANDELIN: I don't know. He was very good in class if you put your hand up. He was perfectly happy to answer any questions from the class. I never had occasion to go to him for office hours, and I don't know if he even had them. I nearly worked with him my junior year, and that was without meeting him. That was a very funny experience. I would've been part of the "search for DNA" team and perhaps been disappointed, as the Caltech team was, that they were close but not there.
I had a terrible chemistry class at the end of my sophomore year. It was Quantitative Analysis, which is "cross-every-T, dot-every-I." There's almost no chemistry in it. It's recipes. You take this, you add this reagent, you spin it, you distill it, you condense it, you precipitate it, you weigh it really accurately. The technique was boring because you did the same thing all year. The chemistry was cookbook. If I needed it later, I could look it up. And maybe by the time you looked it up, there'd be a better reagent or smarter process. The teacher gave five-minute snap quizzes at 8 o'clock in the morning. We'd walk in, blackboard up. Five minutes later, blackboard down. I missed most of them. I got A's on the tests because I knew chemistry, but I missed all of the pop quizes. He called me in and chewed me out because I was missing things, and I wasn't appreciating him, which I didn't. I tried to hide it and be respectful, but I think he decided I was not a good student in his eyes. I don't think I got a great grade at the end because he counted all the tests I'd missed. Didn't matter. By then, I said, "I've had it. I'm going to switch to physics." I don't quite know why that was. It wasn't that class alone. That was maybe the precipitating factor. A little bit of it might've been that I was getting good grades. "You're getting good grades. Why aren't you a physicist?" That's a terrible thing to even think was being said then, much less that I might've heard it, and I don't know that I did.
I think the real driver was that I was beginning to see physics as the basis of all of it. Well, yeah, but the steps between basic physics, chemistry, and biology are so big, you're not building that ladder this week. But I was looking at very fundamental science, and I think that's what drove me toward it. I announced I was switching to physics. Physics was harder. Chemistry was pretty easy. I had to study to do physics.
I was asked if I'd be part of an experiment at that point, some time in my junior year, to skip the bachelor's degree and go into graduate school and do a chemistry graduate program in Linus Pauling's lab. I don't know how big an experiment it was, I don't know if it was me and five others or it was, "We'll pick somebody this year and more next year if it works." I know I was asked if I'd be willing to go into graduate school and skip the bachelor's degree. That had to be very tempting. The problem was, I was seriously dating a young lady who was at Stanford. And if I skipped my bachelor's degree, I would've been at Caltech indefinitely. If I don't, I could join her at Stanford for her undergraduate school. I don't know if that was the driver either, but I know that was a component. And I'd given up on chemistry, so I'd have to turn my back on a decision I'd made. I could do that. Obviously, my career shifted several times. I think I'd have enjoyed it and been okay in that. It just didn't work for me at that moment. An emotional decision.
Had I chosen to accept, I'd have had a PhD by '57 or '58 instead of '66 or '67. That would've meant my initial thought of being college faculty would've been easily obtained. I'd have been swept up. PhD in Pauling's lab, 22 years old. "Let's go." Well, that wasn't the path I took. There's no regret, mind you. I have enjoyed and felt productive in everything else since. Once I realized not too long ago that I didn't like doing grants, I may have been stopped in an academic career at a lower level than I would like to have been. It may not have worked as well as the dream when I was younger.
ZIERLER: What about other giants on the faculty? From the perspective of a freshman or sophomore, who loomed large in your consciousness on campus?
ANDELIN: Well, Feynman. He was so entertaining and not tied to what he'd just said. If you could find something he'd said that you'd like to amend, he would amend it. The problem was, he'd amend it and then run-on way beyond anything you'd thought of. He was very good. The humanities faculty were pretty pleasant and pretty giant, I think. Sweezy was the economist that everybody really trusted, and he was an old-school economist, where he wasn't deeply numerical, but he'd think about the forces. Most of us bought into him like crazy. Bob Sharp was the most entertaining teacher any of us had run into, at a level everybody understood, and everybody wanted to be a geologist like him. He was clearly a way-up winner. I thought Tom Apostol was a marvelous math teacher, and he was quieter. Math didn't have slides like Bob Sharp. Bob would show you glaciers, palm trees, collapsed houses, girls, whatever it took to get the audience back in shape. It was wild. Everybody got to his lectures on time.
Apostol's lectures, you had to like math. But if you did, he was wonderful. I did, and he was. Most of the physics professors did incredible research, but I didn't find them excellent teachers. They were adequate, good, better than that probably. The concepts were wonderful, but they didn't draw me into class. That's why I wound up, with another friend, often sharing class notes, because one of us had been, and one of us hadn't. It wasn't worth going to the class. The subject was good, the material they provided was wonderful, but going to the class didn't help that. It gave you another chance to play a game of chess, bridge, ping pong, volleyball. If it was a nice day, maybe we did that instead and picked up afterwards. Dr. Beadle was excellent.
Horowitz was good. Beadle was really admired. I personally thought of Norm Davidson as very special, but that's because he was my boss and gave me a career, gave me education, gave me lessons. He was really good. I loved him. I knew Ernest Sechler because it was his daughter I was dating. I didn't do aeronautics, but I heard he was very good. Dinners at their house, educating me, not in science, but in communication, when you need to be precise, and when you can be casual. I learned a lot from him. Again, many of the humanities ones. Kent Clark was a miracle worker; so was David Elliot.
ZIERLER: Relative to your initial interests when you started at Caltech, what were you most interested in pursuing by the time you were a senior? What kind of science?
ANDELIN: Experimental. And not high-energy physics. I think because my dad tinkered with cars, and I had wood shop, I wanted things to work on, not a screen to look at. I didn't want screen time then, and I still don't like it much. I use it because it's important. But I wanted to be in a lab doing something. My chemistry experience was in a lab, too. I was not the synchrotron type because that was a machine over there, and you'd sit over here because of the radiation.
I was okay with the solar physics I was doing with Harvard because we were building a telescope, and I was working with a big telescope, taking measurements of the spectra. I was still doing things, even though a lot of it was computing. There wasn't much computing when I was at Caltech. There was a computer lab, but we didn't use it.
ZIERLER: Did you have a sense as an undergraduate how much national security supported science at Caltech? In other words, budget from the DOD.
ANDELIN: Not a clue. I don't think I thought about support until I got to Harvard. I was supported pretty much all the way through my school at Caltech. I don't remember all of it, but undergraduate, I got scholarships. I think when I graduated, my student debt was $400. It was only $600 a year tuition. It's 100 times more now. I couldn't afford the $600 at all at $0.35 to $0.40 an hour of work, and I was too young to work the first year. I didn't think about funding. When I went to Stanford, I had one of the early NSF fellowships, which paid room, board, and tuition. I don't know if there was anything beyond that. I think I had enough for one or two trips on the train back home, maybe laundry. But it was a nice fellowship. Then, I got a Hughes fellowship that lasted four years. Then, when I became RA, that was free room and board. And I don't know where my tuition came from. I didn't pay much.
ZIERLER: What year did you become RA?
ANDELIN: '58. '55 to '56 was Stanford. '56 to '58, I was an RA in Throop Club, which was off-campus. I moved into Ricketts in '58, left in '62, acting Master of the Student Houses '62 to '63.
ZIERLER: So I have the chronology right, did you go to Stanford directly after undergraduate?
ZIERLER: What degree did you pursue?
ANDELIN: I was going for a PhD. And when I broke up with my girlfriend, I told them, "I'm leaving," and they said, "Okay, let's have a master's degree then." I said, "I didn't do the thesis." They said, "We'll give you a test." I walked in, and there were three faculty. We talked about it, but it wasn't much of a test. I'd already passed the PhD candidacy that year, so I was in line for the PhD. That's another defining circumstance. Choosing not to work with Pauling and breaking up with my girlfriend both changed the trajectory of my career. Pauling was not painful, girlfriend was, but both of them worked out fine when I got back on track. I never left the track with Pauling, but I did for a while with the girlfriend.
ZIERLER: If you had stayed on track at Stanford, what would the PhD have looked like at that point?
ANDELIN: I hadn't yet bought into low-temperature physics, but Fairbanks was there and doing it, and I'd heard about his helium work. There were a couple other highly qualified faculty there doing interesting work. One [Panofsky] was doing high-energy physics for SLAC. Because of his personality, I had some interest, even though I'd sworn off high-energy physics. But that felt more tinker-able. I think, though, my girlfriend and I realized things were in trouble by February or March, and I had just finished my candidacy exam about then. Just as I was looking for something, I was in emotional turmoil. I didn't talk to Fairbanks or the other faculty. I wasn't going into theory, I knew that. I loved math, I'd taken Feynman's Math Physics course my senior year and just truly absorbed it, thought it was wonderful stuff. I still didn't want to go into theoretical. I'm not sure why. There was just something about me that said, "If you're not using your hands, you're going to get bored."
I don't know what I would've done at Stanford. There's a good chance I would've gone into Fairbanks's lab and done helium work. Today, quantum mechanics actually has a more macro- feel to it. You can have entangled particles, and they can be anywhere in the universe. But back then, quantum mechanics was smaller than you could imagine. It was a particle, or a wave, or a wave particle, and it had funny properties. Except for liquid helium or superconductivity. There, you could have a bucket or chunk of quantum mechanics. You couldn't hold it because it was cold, but it was a physically large piece of quantum mechanics. That was really exciting. I was drawn to that. But for whatever reason, I didn't lean towards superconductivity, I leaned toward the helium one. A superconductivity experiment included a little piece of metal and a couple electrodes in a careful design and you made measurements. Helium, you had to construct funny things. You had to engineer odd-shaped glassware with filters, you had to invent ways to get electrical lines through the glass, you had to use different glass because the helium goes through Pyrex, you had to use different kinds of glue to put the filter in with the plastic or the glass.
It was a lot of engineering. It was puzzles. It wasn't just do it, measure, think about it. I'm way underplaying superconductivity because we did that in our lab, too, and I know how hard that was. But from my perspective, that looked too straightforward. Just as much imagination, just as difficult, but you weren't engineering structures the same way you were with helium. The measurement of helium was just terrible. You had to have little slots in the silvering of Dewars so you could see in. My PhD thesis, I pretty much did my main measurements middle of the night because though I was 300 or 400 yards from the synchrotron, that magnetic field screwed up my experiment; if there were trucks going by, it screwed up my experiment. I wanted nobody on California Avenue and no synchrotron. The building was empty, of course, so I did okay. But it was a delicate business. The whole time I did helium work, I was dealing with kind of state-of-the-art technologies. Primitive state-of-the-art technologies. [Laugh]
ZIERLER: Last question for today. In the middle of all of this is the launch of Sputnik. What did that mean for your career and what was capable at that point?
ANDELIN: I didn't understand how far technology could go. Sputnik wasn't a shock to me, and I think that's because I didn't know enough. I wasn't part of the rocket and earth space communities. And I was wrong again when Kennedy said, "We're going to go to the moon by the end of the decade," and I said, "No way, it's 20 years away." I have been incorrect in most of my predictions about how fast technology can move, and that's because I'm limited by what I think I can do.
It was a shock to the nation. I remember watching it go by. We were in the Hollywood Bowl, you'd watch it go by, and before the performance was over, it'd go by again, and that was kind of fun. I liked it because it was something that could be achieved. "There's more that can be done. We're not done with science or engineering. There are still frontiers out there."
For a good part of the time, people were saying we'd wrapped it up. "We discovered DNA. That's the end of that. We found all the species in the world. That's the end of that. The Standard Model works for physics. We're done." It hasn't been that way. That's what's so exciting. You get to learn more, you get to be carefully critical, even of your own work. "This is brilliant. Nothing could be better." Oh, yes, it can. That's why you work with collaborators. The difference between Caltech and even Harvard colleagues compared to those in Congress was, when I got to Congress, I missed honest criticism. You don't get it in a political world, and you can't give it in a political world without being on the outs. When I was at Caltech, I wanted the criticism. "Tell me my mistakes before I publish. Do not let me make those mistakes publicly. Do it, tell me."
Even so, my first paper at Ford was titled "The Effect of Rotation on Rotating Helium." A little redundant.
Keith Matthews was on campus as long as me, or pretty close. Saved me the better part of a day once when he found a mistake in something I was machining. He was an alumnus, technician, very smart. Gerry Neugebauer would have known him. He did some of the infrared telescope work. That crew would know Keith. He never went for a PhD. Even without a PhD, he stayed on working at Caltech.
At Caltech, they'd say, "BS. That's not right. You screwed up. You're wrong." And that's valuable. I literally ended the meeting I had just before this by saying, "This was a good meeting. I'd like your comments if there's more we can do. No flattery. Tell me the complaints. That's how I'm going to learn. That's why you're willing to come back next time. Complain at me now, we'll do better next time."
ZIERLER: On that note, we'll pick up next time with coming back from Stanford and your return to Caltech.
[End of Recording]
ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Thursday, August 18, 2022. I'm delighted to be back with Dr. John Andelin. John, it's so nice to be with you again. Thanks for joining me.
ANDELIN: My pleasure.
From Stanford and Back to Caltech
ZIERLER: We're going to pick up right where we left off with your decision to come back to Caltech from Stanford. Just as an overall question, I'm always curious about push and pull factors in decisions. What was pushing you away from Stanford at that point, and what was pulling you back to Caltech?
ANDELIN: Stanford had not turned out to be the academic home I'd hoped for, and I was there because of a girlfriend who was no longer my girlfriend. Between those two, it was as a push-push, if you will. And I'd had such a positive experience in the four years at Caltech undergraduate that it seemed very appropriate to go back rather than go to a third unknown entity. Since the Stanford one hadn't worked. It was an easy pull to go back. I still knew students and faculty, and I was comfortable with the campus. My folks lived near there. There were a whole bunch of personal reasons. It was not carefully thought out. If I had planned a year at Stanford, I would've been applying to other graduate schools after my master's degree, then I would've had a wider choice. I didn't decide to leave Stanford until pretty late in the year. And once Caltech had said, "Yes, you may," I just didn't look anywhere else. And I was happy, it worked out perfectly for my life.
ZIERLER: Was there someone at Caltech specifically who was recruiting you? Was there somebody driving that process?
ANDELIN: I don't think so. I probably talked to Dr. Anderson because he'd been my undergraduate academic advisor, so I knew him in that sense as an administrator. I never had a class from him, but I knew him as an administrator. And I would guess I asked them what was required to come back. Maybe just the graduate student admissions office. It was not an event of any moment to me. Once I said, "Can I come back?" and they said, "Sure," I don't remember much paperwork because I'd been there before, and Caltech still had my records.
ZIERLER: Tell me about the initial position. What was available to you when you got back to Pasadena?
ANDELIN: I had a Hughes Fellowship at that point, which I had applied for, and that took care of tuition. I was going to live at home again because I lived seven, eight miles from campus, and I'd been driving it for the four years of undergraduate. And I was still off campus as a graduate student. Before school started, when I knew I was admitted and going back, I was asked if I was willing to be an "RA," though I wasn't a resident assistant, but an associate of some sort with Throop Club, which was the off-campus club. I said yes because that was where I had known people before, and that was my home. I knew students as good friends in I think every one of those student houses before, so I was comfortable with on-campus housing, but I didn't live there. I went to Frosh Camp as a Throop Club RA, and this was an experiment. They were trying to see if a graduate advisor in an undergraduate club could be helpful. I was involved in the campus immediately, meeting with the other RAs, so I would hear all the problems of the student houses as well as the general campus gossip and scuttlebutt.
I got very much more involved than I would've as a regular graduate student. It was probably a month into that year that I decided I would like to try to teach because I'd always thought of myself as a faculty member. But if you haven't taught, you don't know whether you can or if you like it. I went in to see Dr. Anderson and asked about it. He said, "Well, you're on a fellowship, so we can't pay you." I said, "I know that." He said, "Your timing is right because one of the TAs just told me it's too much work for him to TA and take graduate classes, so he's looking for a replacement. Are you willing to start next week?" And that was Freshman Physics, which I found very interesting, not just because of the teaching, but I found it amazing how much I learned by teaching Freshman Physics in my sixth year of college as a physics major, having gotten As and Bs in physics.
I learned by teaching in ways I had never expected. That was a revelation to me, and it meant that any chance I had to learn something by teaching it to somebody else, I said yes. You learn by having to know it so deeply that you can tell it to them in simple language, and when they get a misconception, you know what it is, and you can turn it around–actually, in Throop Club, I was tutoring a number of the kids in Freshman Physics. One of them asked a question, and I said, "That's not the right answer. This is the answer, and here's how you do it." He said, "This is what I did. I got the other answer. What's wrong?" I said, "No, this is the right answer." "Well, that's not helpful." I knew how to do it, and I couldn't quite see how he didn't. I had to go back and think about it, and that's when I realized that the right way to know the right answer is to know what goes wrong when you get to a wrong answer.
You have to go back to the beginning and see where the first misstep is in the student's thinking. It isn't that I know how to do it, and I can show them. It's like showing them how to get through a maze. The maze is to test you. To test them, I had to know where they took the wrong turn. I did not expect to be stuck on a Freshman Physics question in my sixth year of school. [Laugh] That was wonderful. And I had a great learning experience all year. I would assume my teaching style had to have improved because at the beginning, I'd read the chapter, come in, do a lecture, listen to questions. Because I was in Throop Club during the day, I was available on campus, but I didn't have office hours, didn't have a lab that early. I didn't wind up with a lab until later that year.
ZIERLER: Tell me about your research at that point. What were you involved in?
ANDELIN: First year back was basically classes because I had more to take. Later that year, I decided I'd like to work in low-temperature physics, so I contacted Dr. Pelham, and he said, "Fine, happy to have you aboard." He had a small low-temperature lab. I think there were three or four graduate students and a technician. You needed a technician to liquefy the helium. I think we bought the liquid nitrogen, but we had our own compressor and liquefier for the helium. HDr. Pelham had been working with two previous graduate students on a helium-flow issue. I mentioned before that liquid helium was fun because it obeys quantum mechanics macroscopically when it's colder, below two degrees. The non-quantum mechanical explanation that is consistent with what it looks like is that it's made up of two separate fluids that don't interact, a normal fluid and a superfluid. The superfluid is attracted to heat. You can cause it to move if you have heat at one end of the tube, and presumably the normal fluid only moves in response to the superfluid moving one way.
That is a very macroscopic picture that I don't think I would give to a physics person as such because it's not clear what's moving versus what's not because it's a quantum mechanical property. That meant you could make the equivalent of a superfluid wind tunnel if you sealed off the ends with filters and put heat at one end. The superfluid would go one way, and the normal fluid may or may not go the other way. For most experiments, you'd like the normal fluid to stay put. He'd had one student do an experiment with fly wings to see if there was lift from the superfluid flow, just like with air, water, or any other fluid flowing past an airfoil. And there seemed to be lift. He had a couple other students checking other superfluid properties. He said, "What's left to do is drag. Does the superfluid, when it flows past an object, cause drag?"
That meant I had to invent the tunnel, invent an object in it that was in the middle, make the superfluid flow, measure how much it was flowing, which tells you the velocity, and measure the forces on some object. Turns out that the forces were rather small. By today's standards, they were macroscopic, but they were something called microdynes. When a mosquito lands on you, that's a couple dynes probably, and this was microdynes. To measure it, I used a torsion pendulum, a crossbar at the bottom and a very slim fiber coming down. When fluid pushed on one side of the bar, it would twist -- if there was drag. You put a mirror on the fiber, on the bar, and measure the twist. You can see the deflection. I used a sphere, and with today's technology, I would've done a sphere where I would have ultrasound, magnetic, electric forces, depending on what would work best, suspend it freely, so in space, nothing around it. I couldn't do it in those days with the electronics I had access to and my ability. I had a sphere with a rod coming out the back end.
That distorts the flow and doesn't make it as clean as it should be. It wasn't a matter of the drag on a sphere, it was the drag on this funny object, a sphere with a rod coming out the back end and a very thin fiber going up. It was still drag, but I couldn't do a careful drag on a sphere correlation because it had other objects in the way. It turns out, what's behind an object affects the drag just as much as what's in front.
The fiber was quartz, and it was a very interesting technology used to make it. I went to Dr. Victor Neher, who was doing cosmic ray experiments and used quartz fibers in some aspects of his sensing equipment. You needed an oxy-hydrogen torch, and those are unpleasant because you can't see the flame very well. It's really as close to an invisible flame as you can imagine. And of course, it's very hot. Then, you had to take a slender quartz rod and stick it in the flame.
The oxy-hydrogen flame had to be going full blast, the blowtorch mode, not the delicate operation mode, because the point is, you would melt the tip of a quartz rod, and the gases pouring out from the flame would blow it away. If you've ever played with hot glue, you know that when you lift it off, you get a little string of glue between the glue gun and the object you're gluing. Somewhere in the room, there was a very thin fiber, and you had to go around kind of feeling for it. If you made 10, 20, or 30 of them, you were bound to run into a couple of them. And I only needed a few inches. These would be yards long. It was a primitive technology. It's a string-and-sealing-wax field of the 1900s, but it worked well, and the fibers, being quite thin, were very sensitive. I could measure torsion to a very nice degree.
To know where the mirror was, I had to have a light going in and out, so I needed a slit in the silvering of the Dewar, and that let heat in, so my experiments didn't run as long as they would've if I could've had the Dewar totally silvered. And because I didn't want the sphere to move, I had a magnet on the torsion fiber and the torsion rod that I could control from the outside with magnetic coils. I could keep the sphere positioned exactly steady and measure the force on it by the force of the magnetic field. There was a lot of calibration along the way. It was in that calibration that I realized that a previous thesis probably had a mistake in calibration. I found that awkward to put in my thesis or to report, but what had been reported previously was that the forces were much greater than they should've been.
And the answer was because there was a miscalibration of a quartz fiber torsion rod system. The problem was that the calibration has to be done in a vacuum. If there's air around, the air drags with it, and that makes it look like it's heavier. It appears to be heavier than you think it is, so it takes a bigger force to move it than you expected. You miscalibrate the torsion system. It affected my calibration less than in the earlier experiments, but even so it was probably double by itself. And you don't think of it, but if you were a fly or a mosquito, air is not like we think of it. It's like swimming in molasses for them because they've got all this baggage they're dragging along, plowing through. It's a very different feel for these small creatures than it is to us
Setting up a wind tunnel was exceptionally difficult, and mine worked better than most at the time, even if not well, I would say. I had to do some major plausible adjustments to my data.
ZIERLER: When you say setting up a wind tunnel, are you talking about creating it from scratch or changing an existing wind tunnel for your research?
ANDELIN: This meant going to a glass blower and saying, "I need something shaped like this," and I'm going to pack some rouge powder at the end, then the helium can't get through, but the superfluid can. "No, that didn't work, I'll use something else." It was done from scratch. There'd been people doing them before. The two previous experiments in the low-temperature lab had used a wind tunnel of sorts. Mine just had to be done differently. The problem is, even just normal helium likes to go through things because it doesn't interact with much. There aren't big ionic forces saying, "Stop here." It drifts, it goes through Pyrex really quickly. You can't use Pyrex to hold it. You've got to use Nonex glass. Corning made it, and they would ship it to low-temperature labs. We had a good glass blower, which was critical to all of our experiments. It's a wonderful thing to have nearby.
You can go in and say, "Do this, change this, this didn't work, do that." But there were two big problems. One, measuring the flow. The helium evaporates really quickly, so you had to look at the exhaust and catch it in buckets or some kind of graduated cylinder to see how much was coming out. Because it always just splashes back in the main bath. But you couldn't let that happen, you had to know how much was flowing through while you're doing the experiment. And you wanted to pin the so-called normal fluid as much as you can, so it wasn't going in or out either end. I'm using an analogy. The normal fluid and superfluid description worked well in those days. Now, we know a whole lot more about the vortices and the quantum mechanics. The measurements are different today. I'm talking 60 years ago, so forgive my lack of modern physics terminology. As I would add some heat to run the system, some of the so-called normal fluid was going the wrong way in the tunnel. It had viscosity, for sure, so when I would start the tunnel, my drag was negative.
ZIERLER: Which tells you what?
ANDELIN: Something's going the wrong way. I'm supposed to be pushing it with this wind tunnel. Normal fluid is going upstream and the superfluid wasn't yet having drag. As the heat increased, all of a sudden, the superfluid drag was positive and followed the appropriate curve for drag. I wanted to know how to get rid of the negative stuff. I had to posit that that was the normal drag from the normal fluid going the wrong way. I would take my data that looked negative and then positive and add the negative in. What I wound up with, just assuming that was the underlying mechanism, was a relatively straight, flat line, and then it went up. And that was arguing that the superfluid helium had zero drag up to some point, and at that critical velocity, it started having drag.
And that was what the theory said. And the distance it was zero drag was supposed to be dependent on temperature. My experiment showed all of that to be true, assuming my recalibration of the normal fluid wrong-way drag was valid. And that was where I was challenged the most by my advising committee, on how I knew it was true. I had to say, "Because you know the equation for the drag of a normal fluid. And if you take the normal equation, and you assume that's what it is, and you take it out, you get a straight line. You don't get something that wanders around or sags." It really cleaned it up rather nicely. The reason this was important is that the fluid equations say that there's a difference in the drag on an object if the viscosity is zero or immensely small. With a tiny viscosity, it would still have drag. If it's actually zero, it wouldn't. This is a null test. It's got to be zero on the money, or it doesn't work.
I think it showed that the superfluid had zero viscosity. I was reasonably convinced, and I knew there was a weakness in the argument. The reason was, the filters at the end couldn't keep the heat from leaking in. It's got to stop fluid from moving, and keep the heat from leaking in, and fit inside of a Dewar. A quarter-inch of packed rouge, the heat went through. If the heat goes through, you get this backwards flow. And that screwed up everybody's experiment in one way or another. But the others could translate it better than I could. I did my best. My thesis was very short, and as a result, I was asked, especially with this correction I made, to put an appendix in with all my raw data. It was one of the first integrity tests in the sense of, "Your data is on public display. If you cheated or made a mistake, everybody's going to figure that out." I thought of it as padding my thesis. "Good, I need more pages." They were complaining it was too short. But there wasn't much to say. The theory was a few pages, the apparatus was a few pages, what I did was a few pages, and then there were the charts.
ZIERLER: What was the theory doing in terms of guiding your work?
ANDELIN: If you have helium below 2 degrees, it has this component that appears to have very different properties. If you take a cup of helium and raise it above the bath below, it looks like it leaks. It drips from the bottom. The reason is, this so-called superfluid couldn't care less that it's in a container. It goes up over the edge, crawls all over the place, and drips off the bottom. And if you put an empty container down, it fills because it goes over the lip Normal fluids, normal viscosity, you can take a cup, partially submerge it in water, and it won't fill with water. Do it with liquid helium, it fills up. I was trying to establish the properties of this so-called superfluid component, this component of helium that allows its atoms to appear more freely in other places. Not by having a specific atom move, but by having the quantum collective atoms push a little more over this way.
In electric currents, they talk about current flowing and the amperage. You think of it as the battery sending electrons from over here to there. No, electrons are doing a slow move, but they show up over here and fill back in over here. Like adding marchers at the end of a long parade. Helium, I think, is the same way. I don't know where it stands today. I have not chosen to follow any of my past fields as a professional would because I've had other things in my life that needed more attention. I stopped thinking about liquid helium when I quit my job at Ford and moved to Harvard. That was my experiment. I was trying to understand the quantum nature of helium. Again, there are three or four critical properties of fluids, lift and drag being a few. I was testing the drag. Because of that very interesting difference with zero viscosity versus finite but small, if I could have shown, which I think I did, that it really had zero drag, that was significant. It isn't small drag, it's zero.
Because I could measure small drag–this was drag, this is zero. Small drag would've shown a little bit of a slope or curve, and it didn't do that. Assuming my calculation and correction was correct–it's conceivable it was not correct, and I don't know the status of experiments since, but I assume they would confirm that the drag can be zero. That was the question, "Is it zero or small?" What's the charge of a neutron? Is it zero or small? Same kind of question. You measure these things to more and more precision. The nice thing about the Navier-Stokes equations is, zero is a real zero. Epsilon is the standard small number. You put in epsilon, the equation doesn't work the same way. It was one of the nicer go, no-go tests, except the experimentalist had this awkwardness of the apparent backward flow. I still think it's correct, but somebody may say I'm full of it.
Helium Research and Ricketts House
ZIERLER: How did you balance your research with your administrative duties during these years?
ANDELIN: Badly. I took a very long time to get my degree. And before I finished, some of the faculty assumed I was already faculty because I'd been around so long, and I had administrative responsibilities. I assumed there was some emotional content from breaking up with that girlfriend. I moved to Stanford because of her, so we were serious. And that didn't help my sense of wellbeing when we broke up, I think. The other thing that happened was, I won't say excuse, I'll say factual, is, not too long after I was working, Dr. Pelham left for the University of California, Irvine, so we had no advisor. And there was no one else on the faculty who was a low-temperature physicist. The only other one I knew who had an interest in it was Professor Feynman. He cared about helium and liked the concept. In fact, we did see him over the years. Not often, but somewhat regularly.
Over the next many years, Caltech would have someone come in from another university doing low-temperature research, and they would drop in for three or four days to work with the students. In fact, they were buddies with the faculty, so they came to visit their faculty friends and work on their interests, and they would give each of us a half hour or hour of their time. One was from San Diego, lovely person, very helpful, but we saw him every three to six months. One was from Chicago, one was from Houston. I had a new advisor every two years, and they didn't do too much to help. And none of them pushed. None of them had the history of even looking at our record to say, "John, you've been a graduate student for six years. What are you doing?" I may have still been a graduate student except for Professor Jim Mercereau, a fellow graduate student who became a faculty member. He looked at what I was doing. He said, "You've been doing this for a very long time. It's June. You've got until next June to finish."
And that was the year I finished. It was not my most proud moment. Finishing was nice, but looking back, I say, "I did what through graduate school?" But in that timeframe, I taught for three years, I was an RA for four, six if you count Throop Club, and acting master of the student houses for one. There were a lot of administrative duties that I really enjoyed. And I'm sure it was valuable to me in my afterlife, my post-Caltech life as a researcher. I can't fault any piece of my Caltech experience. When I look back, I've used bits and pieces in different mixes ever since, including just personal life. The opportunities to do what was then a hard experiment–Pelham had said, "You've done good work in the past. I assume you can do it. Give it a try. If it doesn't work, we'll have something else you can do."
Others in the lab were doing some superconductivity work, which had simpler equipment than that for liquid helium. You had to get the Josephson junctions right, the superconducting materials right, the right connections to them. You had to make sure you didn't overheat something. It required fairly standard engineering to get your apparatus right, then the superconducting material didn't move around like the helium did. And you could measure things with voltmeters, and ammeters. It was hard to measure the flow of helium, it was just a difficult experiment. I think today, it's probably trivial to do something similar because between nanotechnologies, electronics, and computing, you can do all kinds of virtual stuff.
ZIERLER: You said that you managed the relationship badly, but I wonder, just in terms of your overall experiment, in what ways the research enriched your administrative duties and your administrative duties enriched your research.
ANDELIN: They each gave a break from the other. Each was sort of a vacation from the other. I then, and I think ever since, really liked to work on problems. I can take somebody else's answer and promote it, but I tend to like to take one step back to see something before there's a good solution. The experiment was working on a number of problems, different ones by the year, and the administrative stuff was dealing with, in some cases, the bureaucracy of Caltech. There certainly was some, but very little compared to Harvard. Caltech was quite responsive to almost everything I cared about. The students in the student houses, the students I was teaching. I had to explore in my mind and figure out why they didn't understand something I saw so simply. "I know the answer. Why don't they?" There was problem-solving on both sides, and they were very different. But both had a technical component.
But my experiment did not have a human component as such, it was purely technical. Student houses and teaching had all kinds of trying to figure things out. Once I lived on campus, which I did for five years, I had much more exposure to the students themselves because they could drop in on me, and I was much more involved in on-campus student life rather than off-campus student life. I think then, and certainly since working with my wife, Ginger, with the refugees, I try to be observant, even in social circumstances. Going to an undergraduate dance, I was not just going to a dance with a date, I was an RA of that house, and I was watching what was going on, giving guidance even during a party, and before and after next ones. I tend to work much of the time, even in social situations. But observing is fun. You learn things. Asking questions is fun. You learn things.
During my research, I would come back to the student houses, for example, those four years, and be having lunch and dinner with my students, my fellow residents of Ricketts House, and I would tell them about my experiments sometimes.
I would tell them what I was stuck with. It's remarkable how often these other Caltech students would say, "Have you thought about this?" Or they'd ask me a question, pointing me in a slightly different direction, so I would come up with an answer I wouldn't have as quickly or maybe at all, except for having dinner some of them. In that sense, I think my fellow students were as much my thesis advisor as any of the thesis advisors who would come in and say, "Yeah, you're doing okay." And they didn't do what they had to do, which was, "You're doing okay, but you're doing it too slowly." Or, "Tell me what's holding you up." I would say, "This is what's holding me up, this is what I'm doing next, and I'm waiting for the machinist," or, "I've got to go buy something."
They were really primitive technologies. I needed a vibration-free surface for this experiment, so I built a very heavy table, and I floated it on football bladders. I'd buy them and put them under the table, and I'd have them relatively deflated, but not all the way down. They were a cushion to reduce the floor vibrations. Only the slowest floor vibrations got up to my table. Then, I put some cinderblocks around and such.
Helium liquefies at four degrees and is superfluid at two, so I had to run the temperature for the bath for my helium between one to two degrees absolute. We couldn't get much below one, and above two, it's not superfluid. The way you do that is to control the pressure. But you're pumping like crazy to keep it going. You need a pressure valve so if the helium vapor pressure gets a little higher, you pump faster, and if it gets too low, you pump slower. You have to have a very delicate gauge. It was, and it was concentric cylinders. The outer one was a glass tube plugged at both ends, at the reference pressure. I evacuated it to the pressure I wanted for 1.5 degrees liquid helium. And I would pump through the middle tube. And the middle tube was meant to be very flexible, so if the pressure was higher than it should be, it would be bigger, pump faster. If it was lower, it'd slow down a bit. And there was a Bernoulli effect in there that was annoying, but you could compensate for it.
I had to use, as an inner tube, a condom with the end cut off because that was the most flexible rubber we could find that didn't leak helium too fast. I was pumping through this open-ended condom with a reference pressure surrounding it. I had to go to the store and say, "I'd like a dozen non-lubricated condoms."
They don't do science that way today. They don't have float tables on football bladders, they don't use condoms to pump through. But it worked, and it was within my budget, which was zero. We had no budget. I could use the facilities at Caltech, so I used the machinist and glass-blowers, and the technician gave me my helium and nitrogen. It was tinkering in the garage with a really interesting technical problem. It was fun. And I think that's another piece of it. It was fun. I was in a lab with other people. Harris Notarys and I were doing some helium work, and Lauren vant Hull was doing superconductivity. There were a couple of other colleagues I haven't kept in touch we. And we would talk.
Now and then, Feynman would come in and say, "How about lunch?" And he wanted to talk about our experiments, and he wanted to go have lunch at the topless place. He didn't want to go alone, so we were his company. Talking to Feynman one-on-one about liquid helium, or rarely politics, and otherwise other parts of physics, you can't pay for that. He was very bright, very entertaining, really quick. You'd come up with some issue, and he would catch up to where we were very quickly, take the next step. Now and then, he would take the next step quite right, and we could argue with him. He accepted arguments very quickly because he quickly went the next step. Certainly, he had the last word, even if he'd been wrong along the way or slightly off course. Because he was back on course really fast. It was fun, and I learned from that, too.
I didn't have any pressure to finish, other than my own interest in finishing, and I didn't have any plans for what to do afterwards. I liked the administrative work, I liked the lab work, I liked taking classes. I'd take one or two classes now and then in geology, astronomy, philosophy. Favorite professors kind of thing. Whatever they were teaching, I'd take that. I took a class here and there.
ZIERLER: Who was on your committee?
ANDELIN: Mercereau, Neugebauer, and Feynman. Gerry Neugebauer was the one who said, "Your adjustment of data is unconventional. I would like all your data in your thesis." I published all of that. The earlier one had Christy, and that was my candidacy exams. Those were, I would say, very difficult. Not necessarily the content. My candidacy exam was Pelham, Smythe, and Christy. Smythe had taught a class I didn't like, so he and I were not fans of each other. Pelham had a long lunch and was too drunk to come, so he never showed up for my candidacy. Christy asked me mechanics questions first, and I did really well. Then, Smythe asked me some questions, and I got off on the wrong foot on one of them completely. It was a piece of his electromagnetism course I just couldn't get to, so I fumbled.
And then, they toned it down and asked me simpler questions, which were way too simple, which was embarrassing at some point. Then, Pelham had me do his part of the candidacy exam the next day -- low-temperature physics and everything I'd been doing. Then, they got back together, and from what I gather, it was a very funny conversation, where he said, "What about that brilliant student?" and Smythe said, "I thought I was going to flunk him." And they had to decide whether I was going to pass my candidacy exams. I was uncomfortable at the exam with my thesis advisor not present, either for moral support or even to translate a question, so if I'd stumbled on something, he could say, "No, what Professor Smythe is saying is..." Nobody interrupted me when I got on the wrong track. And that's because neither one knew me, really. I'd taken a course from each. That was probably the most difficult time in my graduate career in terms of the graduate school of studies themselves, the candidacy exam where I did not perform as I expected. I knew the work. Must've been stage fright or something. You forget the word, and you can't find it again, and it's just not there until later that day. I missed something and blew it.
But I passed anyhow, and I had no trouble with anything else. That was the downside. Then, not having an advisor for the rest of the time until Jim came in. I owe Jim an enormous favor for that alone. He said, "Finish. You've got a year." When I finished, I looked at a couple of positions that were academic, and I didn't respond to say, "Yes, I'm ready to do those." I turned down the academic positions I'd thought my career was aiming towards. Just about the time I was finishing, Jim said, "I'm working for Ford part-time, and I've got a lab in Newport Beach. Come work for me. ." I almost didn't look for a job. I did, I looked at the University of Houston, something in Chicago, San Diego State, but they just weren't right.
ZIERLER: Before we leave Caltech, this all-star list of names on your committees, these are giants in their respective fields. But in your personal interactions, what stands out in your memory in terms of recognizing who each of these people represented? What was it like interacting with Neugebauer and Feynman?
ANDELIN: It was fun. It was intellectually challenging. Gerry was not much older than I was. He was a rather recent faculty member, so I knew him a little bit personally. I stayed in touch with Gerry and Marsha until he died. I don't think Marsha and I corresponded last Christmas, but we had the 50 years prior and followed each other's careers. Good friends via emails and Christmas letters, so we shared experiences. I'd known Feynman before because I took his graduate class in mathematical physics my senior year. I had him for a whole year, and that year alone–as I said, he was the best physics teacher I had, by far. My other physics professors, I generally liked, and I liked working with them, but I didn't think they were good teachers in class. Neher was a lovely person, I knew him well. I met a few of his family, and they were pleasant, too. Carl Anderson, I liked him.
Bob Leighton was as close to a friend in the sense I knew him. "Hi, Bob," kind of thing because I'd been on campus long enough. Most of these were first names with me. I also tend to go first name, and if I'm not corrected, I live with that. I've gone by John my whole life, no Dr. Andelin or Mr. Andelin. When I taught, I said, "You can call me Coach, you can call me John. No Dr. Andelin." Well, then, it was Mr. Andelin. I'm not formal. There are some cultures where that doesn't work, and then I accept it. But otherwise, I don't want a title to imply who I am. Take me the way I am, not my title, not my background, no credentials, nothing on the walls. I'm who I am. I've found that's the best way I can get to know who they are. I knew Norm Davidson well.
I knew Ernie Sechler very well because I dated his daughter, so I had dinner at his house and knew him personally for two or three years. I found the faculty, to a person, approachable. I could go to them with a question and say, "You know this. I need some help with it." Now and then, if they had relevant faculty positions, if they were on the Faculty Committee for Student Housing or something like that, I'd go to them.
I stayed at Dean Paul Eaton's house one summer as a house- and dog-sitter because Paul had said, "I need somebody to stay there. Would you like to do that?" I liked dogs and it was a big house. I said, "Is it okay to have friends?" He said, "As long as I don't know it afterwards." We had a couple of parties and enjoyed his dog. I don't think it was a whole summer, but it was an extended period. I knew Dean Foster Strong well starting freshman camp. He was in camp, and we talked starting then and throughout. I didn't have a close relationship with DuBridge. I only met him a couple of times. I don't think he knew me, but he was at Frosh Camp many years in a row, and I was there every time, too, in some representative fashion. I think I went every year but my sophomore year.
I knew I was a graduate student and not faculty. I never felt like I made that transition. But I felt part of a family that accepted me. A younger member, yes.
Bob Sharp and I stayed friends until he died. I visited him on campus a few times. I didn't get to see him in Santa Barbara when he moved up there. He was a personal friend forever. I have a story if you want it. We started out not friends, but we wound up very close. I took his geology class. It was wonderful, everybody loved it. Unfortunately, my folks and I had to go back to Chicago for Christmas. I forget whether somebody was sick, or we were just going back to visit. On that trip, I had to go with them, and it was before the final. I went in to Bob, and at that point, he was still Dr. Sharp, and asked for permission to take the final when I got back, or whether he could mail it to me, something like that. "Can't do it. Take the final, or get an F." For whatever reason, he didn't buy my excuse. He said, "You can stay later. Take the train."
That was true, I suppose. I didn't accept that, and he didn't budge. That was it. I said, "Well, so be it. I can't help that. I've got good grades. If I get an F, I'll take the class again. I liked your slides and lectures." The lab assistant that was doing our lab work in geology knew my work to be very good. I really liked geology -- as I told everyone later, "Regardless of the science you're taking, take a course in geology because it's science you can see. You don't see physics or chemistry. You walk around, 'That's a mountain. That's a valley. That's a rock.' Understand the world you walk in. It's a personal science, not an abstract one." This lab assistant said, "What do you mean, you're going to get an F?" I said, "Well, I can't take the final." He said, "That's crazy." Apparently, he went to talk to Dr. Sharp, and I got permission to take the test late. I did, I came back and took the test, and that ended it.
Dick Jahns was another person who was wonderful, and we got to know, both as a teacher and because he and Bob Sharp were at the athletic field almost every afternoon jogging or passing a football back and forth. A month after Bob and I had our row, we wound up standing next to each other in the gym's shower. There were no stalls, we were just standing there in the shower. He looked at me and said, "You gave me trouble, then my TA gave me trouble." I said, "Yeah, I'm sorry." He said, "Well, I guess that's a pass." You're standing there with nothing on, it's a little hard not ot laugh. At that point, we became friends and stayed that way. When I got back on campus a few more times, and throughout my entire graduate career, I took more classes from him and visited him. He was just a lovely, thoughtful person. I was glad they named the lunar mountain Bob Sharp after him. He was a gem.
ZIERLER: Tell me about the lab at Newport Beach. What were the main areas of research there?
ANDELIN: We were part of Aeronutronics in the sense that they were supporting us. They were the admin, they were the cafeteria, they were the purchasing agent. Ford was too distant. But there were, I think, about 15 of us working for Ford. It was exclusively low-temperature physics, where Harris Notarys and I were doing the liquid helium work, and I think everybody else was doing superconductivity. And I had a wonderful start there and a disappointing finish, which actually has a story I'll remember to tell. I got there very quickly, and there was a Russian experiment that surprised everybody. The results didn't seem right. You were rotating helium, so you needed this Dewar you could rotate. You had to have the vacuum seals, the pumping, rotating seals, electrical connections in and out, rotating. Mechanically, it was a difficult setup. But it was already built when I arrived at Ford Scientific. It was a close reproduction of the Russian experiment. It had to do with the electrical properties of helium under rotation. It was a capacitor that had helium as its fluid between the plates, whether the capacitance changed when you rotated it.
The Russians said it did, and that was amazing. I got there, and they said, "This is your experiment now. We can't get the electrical connections and the pumping"–the seals and electrical contacts weren't working. They knew what they'd done, so they weren't looking at the beginning, something like that. It took maybe a week until the apparatus worked, and it didn't confirm the Russians at all. It said there was no change. Within the week, we had a paper. I'm published saying, "The Russians are wrong," and that annoyed them, which I found out later when I went to an international conference. I met the author of the paper that was wrong. Maybe I did some contraband sharing at that point. I gave him an Allen Bradley resistor, which was available at every RadioShack. His problem was, he couldn't measure the temperature right. When they started the rotation, the temperature changed in the Dewar, so they were measuring a temperature effect, not a rotation effect.
My predecessors on that experiment had everything set up right. The apparatus was correct, it just needed tinkering. That was easy. Very soon afterwards, there was another US experiment that was done in Chicago and Washington, I think, with a remarkable effect of helium. When you take quantum mechanics, they talk about light going through a slit, and the pattern you get with two slits. How can particles give you interference and diffraction patterns? It's the one-slit, two-slit experiment. Since helium shows macroscopic quantum effects, maybe the one-slit, two-slit experiments would work with helium. You blow super fluid helium through a slit and see if there's a diffraction pattern on the back side. Or, it's hard to tell, but you blow it through two slits and see if there's interference.
The experiment was, build a Dewar, put in something with a very small slit, and have helium on one side that you can push through to the other side using an acoustic transducer, and measure the difference in height on the two side. Lo and behold, they were getting a step or two. The steps were the right size when they did the quantum mechanical calculation. And another lab confirmed it. That's a one-slit experiment. "I'll do the two-slit. But let's get the one-slit down first." I never got the one-slit experiment to work. I got acoustic steps. This is one wavelength, this is two wavelengths. I couldn't get anything quantum mechanical. I learned years after I left Ford, neither did they. They had gotten the answer wrong and had acoustic effects instead of the quantum mechanical ones they reported.
The reason I'm saying this is, I didn't publish the fact that I had failed. Partly, because Ford moved me to Detroit, so I quit, but partly because in those days, you didn't say, "I failed." I didn't know why I failed, but I kept getting acoustic steps, not quantum mechanical steps. If I had published, they would've figured out sooner that their quantum mechanical calculation and the acoustic one were the same size step. All they had to do was use a different frequency shout, and they'd have known they'd made a mistake. But they didn't. And whatever it was, I'd have told the world, "This experiment isn't as cut-and-dried as you think." In the last 20 years, I've seen more and more movements saying, "You should report negative results. You don't get tenure if you do, but you should report it." I think I didn't really have the opportunity to do it because I left and went to Harvard. But it just wasn't the ethic. I never thought of it. My answer was, "I'll work harder on it. Ah, I'm out of time. I'll leave it to the next guy to figure it out."
ZIERLER: I'd like to ask a question that connects one of the first questions I asked in our original conversation with something interesting you said just a few minutes ago. When you had completed the defense, and you were thinking about next steps, when it seemed apparent to you that you were really not going to go on an academic path, do you think that planted a seed at all that ultimately, if not immediately, you would end up in science policy and government issues?
ANDELIN: You're giving me way more credit for thinking ahead than I've ever done in my life. I almost have a vague Forrest Gump feeling about my life. I bumped into situations–I got to Caltech by accident and had this incredible experience. Jim Mercereau pushed me to finish my thesis, and he had another job waiting for me, I didn't have to look for a job. I don't think I ever quit thinking I might be faculty, except I realized I knew less and less about any subject, so there wasn't much I could teach. I graduated in '55, my year at Stanford was '56, and my PhD was '66 when I walked out the door in June, but '67 when I got the final degree. That's 12 years. That's what you do if you're in philosophy, not in hard science. With that record, I didn't expect an academic appointment. Which is why I was surprised when Harvard offered me a tenure track. It just was out of my mind that I was ever going to be faculty. I took too long and didn't want to take my immediate offers, and I realized, "Maybe that's not for me." It didn't matter because I wasn't saying it wasn't for me, I was just saying the next job would be moving on to Newport Beach to keep working in liquid helium. A wonderful place on the coast, our own facility, our own technician, our own machinist. You couldn't do better.
ZIERLER: You didn't have to worry about funding.
ANDELIN: You got that right. I didn't look for much funding when I was in school. I applied for things, and they appeared. I didn't fight for it. The RA and master, everything got paid when I was doing those. It was only the last couple years I had any question about paying tuition. I'm sure I paid it then, but it was $750, maybe $900 in those days, nothing important. I don't remember giving up on the idea of faculty. Everything else was just more interesting at the moment. When I left Harvard, I had a vision. I was going to do something political. When I left Caltech, I was happy at Ford, and I was almost happy at Harvard. I wasn't going to stay, that was clear. But I was prompted not to stay by the fact that NASA was failing, and in addition, I didn't like the Harvard experience.
ZIERLER: What years were you in Newport Beach?
ANDELIN: '66 to '69.
ZIERLER: In '69, you went to Harvard?
On to Harvard
ZIERLER: Tell me about the circumstances of the transfer. What pulled you to Harvard?
ANDELIN: Alan Title, a graduate student I'd known before, was working there then. He was part of a student group I'd been with through Ricketts House and my graduate years. There was a team that always had parties together and knew each other well. Alan was one of the graduate students who drifted into that crowd. He graduated before me by a couple of years, went to Harvard, and was probably at some LA party or Chinese dinner at Man Fook Low, which was a wonderful Chinese restaurant in LA at the time. We had gatherings there when I'd come back in town. Ford gave us a year's notice, which is unusual, but moving to Detroit was a big deal. They wanted to close our lab and finish our work. I said, "No, thank you," three to six months into that year. I was telling all my friends, "I'm not staying at Ford." "What are you doing" "I haven't thought about it."
Alan said, "I need help this summer. Come to Boston." I thought I was going to Boston for the summer. Then, administration asked me to stay as a research fellow of some sort. I don't remember the title. I stayed. I think if I really liked Boston . . . It had a lot, but I went to get a room in the north end, the Italian section of Boston, and they said, "We won't rent to you. You're not Italian." And it would have been perfect because it was on the public transportation line to Garden Street, which is where the Observatory was. I could be here, great food, street entertainment, nice room somewhere, music around, and take public transportation, didn't have to deal with the snow and a car. I thought it was an ideal living situation. They wouldn't let me stay. They literally said I was not welcome. And I hadn't experienced that kind of bias or prejudice in my own life before that. The landlord I did have wanted cash in tens or smaller every Friday. Then, I'd go to the laundromat, and the Black or Italian kids would say, "What are you doing here?" Nothing more than that, but it doesn't take much of that for a standard Anglo to say, "I'm uncomfortable." I wasn't welcome. And I didn't think I was welcomed by the Harvard faculty. Why they offered me a position there, I can't imagine.
ZIERLER: What was your title?
ANDELIN: I was the research associate, something like that. They said, "We'd like to offer you a tenure track. You've been here a couple years already, and that counts." I was publishing like crazy with Alan because what we were doing were quick experiments, then publication. "Let's go to a conference, give a talk. Let's go to NASA, give a talk." We were giving talks and publishing like crazy. I was not the senior author on any of them because I wasn't the solar scientist. I was the super technician doing it. I knew the physics, so I could make sure the paper was right. I probably wrote most of the papers, but not based on what I knew before the experiment. I was learning the science at the same time I was doing the experiment. And Alan was a decent teacher. Tough guy to work with, but I liked him well enough. Damn good scientist. He was one of Caltech's National Academy alumni. We stayed friends until 10 or 15 years ago and just drifted apart for lack of common interests. He stayed a solar physicist, and I'd long since left that.
ZIERLER: Institutionally, where were you situated in Harvard?
ANDELIN: Harvard College Observatory. Not the physics department. Had I been in the physics department, my life might've been different.
ZIERLER: Did you feel isolated from Harvard? Was the Observatory sort of off on its own?
ANDELIN: Yeah, it was. It wasn't on campus, so there was no interaction with the campus as such. I don't think there were any undergraduates ever, so there were only graduate students, some of whom I'm still friends and in touch with today. There were no faculty meetings on campus. Yes, it was isolated. There was another facility where they were doing the physical construction of the work for NASA for SkyLab, and we often went over there, but that was also not the campus. I had no opportunity to teach or meet students. I don't think I felt part of Harvard, which was probably correct.
The Observatory faculty were well-reputed, and I can't claim they haven't done really good work. But while I was there, the historian was off in his office historian-ing and not talking to people much. A couple of the senior ones were, by my standards, exploiting their graduate students. And then, we had, I thought, a very awkward situation with the main contract with NASA, where I didn't like what Harvard was proposing, so wasn't part of it. Wound up being on the proposal, even though I hadn't been part of any of the discussions. I'm sure it's happened with others that weren't so obvious. I asked questions about the proposal, that apparently made some people uncomfortable. It was personal, they'd drift away, and I never knew they were offended. In this case, they were bothered by my question and didn't want me to raise it again.
ZIERLER: What was your focus at the Observatory? What were you working on in those years?
ANDELIN: The project was part of the Harvard contribution to SkyLab, which was a pointing H-Alpha Telescope. Otherwise, Alan and I were looking at sunspots and trying to measure magnetic fields with very high precision to understand more about their evolution and at what point they'd cause a solar eruption of some sort, a coronal ejection. We were at Kitt Peak doing science, and we were in Southern California doing testing on the pointing telescope. It was a dual mission. The science is what we were publishing. The pointing telescope was where we argued with NASA. We had figured out, first of all, that they used round-head screws instead of flat-head screws, interfering with the light path, so the telescope did not have good contrast. That wouldn't be critical. They could find sunspots even with bad contrast. But the first light filter was going to get sunburned and go opaque, so the mission wasn't going to work. That's when Alan was frustrated enough with NASA that he accepted a job with Lockheed, which had a major contract, and said, "Harvard isn't helping me figure this out. I'll go to Lockheed." I had little to no interest in staying at Harvard.
ZIERLER: Beyond your own work, what were some of the big projects going on at the Observatory at that time? What were people talking about?
ANDELIN: OSO-J contract. There were almost no meetings to talk about research. There was a very quiet scientific establishment. Felt like it was more like a library than active research. People were at home in the evening, which I wasn't used to at Caltech or Ford. Sometimes you have to work in the evening. Sometimes, you'd take off the week. Depends on what your research needs are at the moment. I thought the most of my immediate colleagues. For example, one of –the graduate students, John Leibacher, is a distinguished solar scientist still. I think he's retired now. He must be close to 80. But he's been working until recently. We worked the hours we needed to, but nobody else was around. I don't think I know much about what they were doing. They didn't share. I knew what John Leibacher was doing. He was looking at the sun, trying to figure out sunquakes by looking at vibrational activities from doppler shifts and things. He did good work.
He learned a lot about the interior of the sun. But I didn't learn much from the faculty. My colleagues were Alan, John Leibacher, and one or two others. I guess there were students. There really weren't any that who would hang out with us. We went out to Bartley's Burgers and some of the nearby restaurants the kids hung out in. There was a fried clams place that was wonderful because where else do you get fresh fried clams but New England? Legal Seafood started there. It became a chain. I think they've had some difficulties lately. But they became a large chain, starting with literally a fish market, then moving into, "If you want to sit at a table, we'll find something for you." That's where we went, and that's where we'd see the other students. No faculty. Faculty were pretty aloof, they had their lives.
ZIERLER: I wonder if your time at Harvard made you appreciate the research culture at Caltech in a new way.
ANDELIN: Short answer, yes. Long answer, absolutely.
ZIERLER: How long did you stay at Harvard?
ANDELIN: '69 to '71. Two years, roughly. I left Ford a month or two early because there was nothing left to do, so I took leave or vacation. I went to Harvard the end of May, and I left a year and three quarters later in January.
ZIERLER: Being in Cambridge in the late 60s, early 70s, were you politically involved at all?
ANDELIN: Well, I wore a black band when they invaded Cambodia. It was frowned on by most of the Observatory, by the way.
ZIERLER: It was a conservative place.
ANDELIN: Yes, it was. "No, there's no politics." Yes, there was. And I was very aware of the politics. Followed it closely. I didn't go to rallies. I supported the people running them, gave them contributions. Most rallies don't have much effect. Some of them really do. I'm a little embarrassed I haven't been to a couple of the ones that really did, but you can't tell that ahead of time. I do letters to editors, corner Congressmen and Senators, environmentalists, tell them what I believe, tell them I'll support them if they get on the right track. I'll support a lot of these people in any way I can, but I didn't do rallies. When the Vietnam War expanded into Cambodian territory, I wore a black band for a couple of months. We talked about it all the time, and I told people who complained at me that, "You should wear one, too."
I'm not shy about my views, but I didn't see that physically I had much to do. We were busy. And sometimes the rallies would be when I was in California, or on a European trip, or down in Huntsville. But yeah, I was well aware of the 60s in many ways. My views on racial issues, racism, go all the way back to when I was 13 and still in high school, having to do with a family trip. And they were reinforced at almost every institution I was in by some activity that said, "There are problems." I didn't pick up on gender inequality until Betty Friedan had a book. I was dating somebody who was a feminist before that was the right title, and she explained to me some of the issues of gender inequality. I wasn't up on the LGBTQIA+ issue until later still, when one of my staff was gay, and we talked about it a lot.
ZIERLER: Coming up on 1971, this is a great narrative turning point to pick up for next time. Last question for today. What were some of the opportunities you were considering when it was time to move on from Harvard?
ANDELIN: I didn't have any as such. But Andrea Dupree, who was a research member at Harvard College Observatory, gave me a lead. She was very nice and approachable. [She became a highly accomplished astronomer.] Her husband worked at MIT as their engineer physicist in fusion energy, and one of his colleagues was a gentleman named David Rose. He was a philosopher, a religious student, a physicist, a nuclear engineer, an artist. He was deeply knowledgeable in the classical sense that he knew everything as far as I could tell. I never ran into an area he didn't know something about in detail. Andrea said, "You're talking about going to Congress. Our friend, David Rose, has a position part-time at Oak Ridge National Lab. You should meet him." I did, and he became a personal friend.
And he said, at our first lunch, "Why don't you come be a guest at the Lab? We're doing some interesting things at Oak Ridge National Lab because it's clear that nuclear power issues are in a transition. The national labs have been doing military and civilian nuclear power, and they need new missions. We've got to talk about new missions for the Lab-- energy policy, conservation, solar, geothermal, and the Lab itself needs restructuring. Come think with me at Oak Ridge about restructuring and where they go from here." I'd never been in the Mid-South. He was a wonderful person, so I said yes. I went there as a guest of the Lab in January and stayed until late April, when I didn't have air-conditioning in the apartment, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, by late April, gets pretty unpleasant in an un-air-conditioned apartment.
That's when I said, "David, I told you I'm going to go to Congress. I'll go and see what happens. But keep me in mind. I may be back soon." I was tempted to stay at Oak Ridge. I don't know what position I'd have been offered. That's where I met Jack Gibbons. He was head of a group there. He wound up being the Director of the Office of Technology Assessment. He asked me to join him there, and he went on to be the President's Science Advisor. As I say, Forrest Gump isn't far off the mark. Andrea heard me talking, introduced me to David, who brought me to Oak Ridge, which introduced me to Jack, which shaped the last 12 years of my Congressional career. I didn't plan my life.
ZIERLER: It is very Forrest Gump-ish, there's no doubt.
ANDELIN: I took advantage of opportunities that looked like opportunities to me, even if they didn't to other people. Quitting a job, I saw as an opportunity. My parents weren't so sure, and some of my friends said, "You're crazy. What are you going to do next?" "I'll find out." And I did, and I liked it. And I never felt I couldn't go back if I didn't stay away too long. Kind of like when you're stealing second base, you can take the first eight feet. You've got to watch carefully. You can't take 10 feet. 10 feet, and you're out. Eight feet, you can get back. OTA was after I had retired from Congress. I had a year and a half off in the middle.
ZIERLER: To clarify, you went directly to Congress after Harvard?
ANDELIN: My National Lab experience, I was a guest of Oak Ridge. It was a no-pay, volunteer, full-privilege thing. When I was leaving, I was offered a position. They said, "Would you like to stay?" I said, "No, I'm not staying. But I may be back in a month or two." I was welcome to stay, but the only title was guest.
ZIERLER: That's a great place to pick up for next time. I want to hear more about Oak Ridge and then how you got to Congress.
[End of Recording]
ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Monday, August 29, 2022. It's great to be back with Dr. John Andelin. John, great to be with you once again. Thank you so much.
ANDELIN: You're very welcome. It's a pleasure.
From Oak Ridge to Congress
ZIERLER: Today, I'd like to pick up with the transition to Oak Ridge. First, just in terms of the push and pull factors, what were you doing at the time that was attractive to Oak Ridge, and vice versa, what was happening at Oak Ridge that made this an exciting opportunity for you?
ANDELIN: I didn't know what was happening at Oak Ridge before I made the decision to go there, I think. I was introduced to an MIT professor named David Rose who was full-time at MIT, but he was a consultant to Oak Ridge. And he was running a health-of-the-organization review. They were changing from just a nuclear facility to, "What else do we do?" now that nuclear was on somewhat shakier ground. They were looking at a reduced need for what they normally were expert at. They were trying to do a state of the lab and look to the future. David was working with that. I heard about him very indirectly and was told, "This is someone you should meet." Probably, it was because while I was at Harvard, in addition to the social life between the faculty, staff, and students that I knew, I was expressing views about the Vietnam War, about NASA and its failure to monitor the SkyLab properly, and talking about going to Congress to fix things.
Given that I was fully grown up, it was pretty naive. But I wanted to go do something about that. It was pretty clear I was leaving Harvard at that point, so I met David for lunch, and he said, "I'd really like to have you come down and work with me briefly for a survey of the lab, and for some other information. I think you'd enjoy learning about solar energy, alternative energy sources, energy conservation." There was a very small group at Oak Ridge doing that. Not unlike other moves I made, I hadn't spent time in Tennessee. I'd seen it and driven through it. But I thought a couple months there would be interesting, so I committed myself to a month. I stayed more like three. It was an interesting opportunity for continuing to stay. There was plenty to do that I cared about, but I still had my earlier vision of moving to Congress. I drove down and wound up doing some very interesting work, getting a taste of humility in the process. One of the our efforts was putting together a survey for the whole staff -- "How are you doing? What do you see as important issues? How long have you been here?"
A lot of questions about the lab, management structure, opportunities for growth and development, pay, etc. We wrote a survey, 30 or 40 questions, not terribly detailed, and tested it on 10 or 15 colleagues. We launched it, and every question but one or two got challenged as ambiguous. I had no idea how hard it was to write a survey and get the results you wanted. People couldn't answer, "How long have you been here?" because it had been run by contractors. Originally, they'd worked for one contractor, then it changed to Union Carbide, so it'd changed their boss. They didn't leave Oak Ridge, but they had two bosses. Some had taken sabbaticals, some had been here 20 years before and come back. We got their name and age easily, but everything else, we had to interpret. I learned a lot about asking questions and how much to believe the answers.
At the same time, I met a couple colleagues down there. One was running the survey, and another was running a small group on alternative energy, looking to give the Lab a new role in other energy systems. And that means, in a month and a half, two months, I had all kinds of opportunities to learn about the solar world, the geothermal world, energy conservation. And I met some people at the Lab that were important to me. I got to meet Alvin Weinberg, who was head of the Lab at the time, Jack Gibbons, who was head of the alternative energy supply crew. I was pleased to meet people who had ideas. But Alvin, I could talk philosophy of science with and his role in the nuclear weapon world. And he was willing to talk to me. I guess I had a secret clearance by then. I was very involved, and really enjoying it, but I had Congress in mind. When it got too warm for my apartment, I moved and went to Congress.
But Oak Ridge was really a fine experience. What I noticed, same thing I noticed at the Harvard College Observatory, was how people kept a normal business schedule. There were very few meetings after 4 or 4:30, parking lot was empty by 5 o'clock. There was no working late in the evening or Saturday. They did their work, and as far as I could see, they were doing it very well, but it wasn't the kind of episodic work where sometimes you really have to work harder or get things done by a deadline, and other times, you could relax a bit and take off the afternoon. That's what I was used to in my research life, so I was used to working very funny and long hours. That didn't happen at the Observatory or Oak Ridge. It did happen in Congress like crazy. Congressional hours are awful, and the young staff are clearly exploited, and they love it, and they're all planning to be Congressmen or something like that someday. But Oak Ridge was a really nice experience.
ZIERLER: In that initial conversation that got you from Harvard to Oak Ridge, did you recognize intuitively that this would pull you away from the science and more toward policy and administration?
ANDELIN: Oh, no. I probably didn't know I was pulled away from science until I'd been in Congressional offices for six months to a year. Once I realized I could do things in a political environment to make social improvements, I recognized I would do it a lot longer. My expertise in helium work, low-temperature work, was already diminishing because I'd shifted to solar physics, and I knew I was not yet an independent solar physicist. Two years at it, and yes, I could do the work really well, yes, I understand it, yes, I could make proposals. But two years in a new field doesn't make you an expert. I recognized I'd pulled away a bit from low-temperature physics, and two years out of that meant I was two years out of date. Could I catch back up? Sure, over the next two or three years, maybe.
But once I discovered that I did have a role in Congress as staff, it was meaningful to me and consistent with my educational background in a funny way. Not science directly, but because I had colleagues everywhere I could count on, because I was comfortable with data. For whatever reason, I knew it would be harder to go back. I realized I could go to a teaching institution and teach freshman, sophomore physics. But doing cutting-edge research would take me quite a while to get back. Because you've got to be on the front edge. You can't count on publications. Even then, a lot of it was getting on the telephone and calling or going to lunch with somebody. I was totally out of touch.
At the Observatory, I was moving around a lot. At Oak Ridge, I was in the middle of nowhere compared to everything I had been working on before. It was quite an experience. Socially, it was very interesting to be in a northern city in the Deep South. Oak Ridge was not a typical southern city. If you drove three miles outside of town, you were in the South. But Oak Ridge itself was full of academics from around the world, but mostly from higher institutions of learning in the US. I didn't change culture moving there as much as I'd thought. I learned less about Tennessee itself. I learned the geography, food, peculiarities about a state that's run by a different political philosophy than I'd been in before. But I don't feel I know Tennessee.
ZIERLER: Orient me chronologically. How long were you at Oak Ridge, and for what years?
ANDELIN: 1971, January through April. It was very short, but it was working with a colleague who's still one of my best friends. The night I got there, I said, "Where's a good place to go eat?" His answer was, "In Oak Ridge?" He called his wife and said, "I'm bringing John home." I did learn where I could eat in Oak Ridge, but that was the welcome I had, and I couldn't ever have asked for more. I worked for many years afterwards with him via email, asking questions. He was a fusion expert. As I gave guidance in Congress about fusion, I relied on him to tell me who I needed to come in for speakers, who I had to go to for a critical analysis, what the last reports were, who was good, who wasn't. He knew it very well. And Jack Gibbons became a personal friend. too, at that point.
Not really close yet, but close enough that I saw him every year or so, he'd be in town, and we'd get together for something. When I went to work in Congress, I think the only reason I was accepted as a volunteer was that I could drop names like Alvin Weinberg and Caltech names that I knew. Nobody in Congress cared about a volunteer with a PhD when I went there, much less in science. It was, "What are you doing here?" Might have helped if my degree was political science. "We want young, active, politically relevant youth. Lawyers, maybe, to write laws." I was not accepted for quite a while. I couldn't even get a volunteer position when in first went. I went up in April or May when I left Oak Ridge, and the answer was, "We're not interested. We have no room in the office, we're full." Which they were. "And we get summer interns. Forget it." I spent probably a couple weeks knocking on doors, saying, "Volunteer? Volunteer? Volunteer? What would you like?"
I learned not to say I have a PhD in physics. "I'm interested in Congress, and I'd like to help. Yeah, I've been educated." They didn't ask, they didn't care. If I did say it, I got a bigger "no" than if I didn't. I gave up, went home for the summer, visited my folks. It was a strange 30-something without a job going to live with mama and papa. I liked them, and I liked the community. They were in Camarillo at that point, and that's a very nice, easy place to visit, beautiful weather. And I went back to DC in September, when the summer interns were gone, and tried again. There, as I said, after doing a whole first floor of the Longworth Building and half of the second floor, getting nothing but no, I got better at asking. At first, I'd say, "I want to be a volunteer," and they'd say, "We don't want you, go away." By the third or fourth office, I'd say, "Any suggestions?" and they'd say, "Go next-door."
I would, and I'd say, "By the way, they sent me from next-door." That's a way of gaining some credibility, "They sent me." Then, further down the line, I'd get their name. I eventually got an appointment to see Congressman Mike McCormack. I learned later that he had an empty calendar, but I was told that he was so busy, he'd see me in a week or two. I said yes. And then, somebody said, "There's a Science and Astronautics Committee." I forget its original name. It changes every few years with the chairman. "Why don't you go talk to them?" I did, and at the front desk, they were equally noncommittal and finally said, "Maybe you should talk to Tom Ratchford. He's a scientist." I went to talk to Tom, right then, actually. He was willing to take a break. And I knew later why.
There are people with crazy ideas who come in and want to lobby, and if you're in the front office, you don't want to defer them because then, they just pester you. You want to see them right away. I think that's why I was seen by the front office, because I did admit that I had a science degree at that point. "Here I am, I'd like to volunteer for a while and learn about Congress. I worked at Harvard and went to Caltech." "Sure, buddy." I went back to talk with Tom, and we had a very thoughtful conversation. And he ended it with a complete waffle. "Well, let's see what we can do. I'll stay in touch. Give me a phone number." I left, and he immediately called somebody, maybe someone at Caltech, maybe Alvin Weinberg, maybe Jack Gibbons. But he checked my credentials within the hour, and I got a call that evening saying, "If you want to volunteer, we're going to the Princeton Fusion Lab tomorrow morning by train. Meet us at the station, and I'll introduce you to Congressman McCormack."
Tom checked me out, they said I was okay, he talked to Mike, Mike said, "Fine." At that point, Congressman McCormack had been given a title as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Astronautics. It was only a title. No staff, no money, nothing. But he was the chairman. That meant I was his staff for at least a day or two, for at least the fusion trip. I met him at the station, we went to Princeton, and I was hired into his office as a volunteer, no funds, no obvious responsibilities, but working with Tom, who was interested in Mike and helping him, even though he was not assigned to him. Tom knew the system well. He'd been on CapitalHill for a year already, so he knew people in the Library of Congress. When Mike said he'd be a chair on the Subcommittee on Energy, Tom said, "I'll help you get something done." He went to the Library of Congress, found an energy expert, and said, "We need a report."
That's all he did. With very little guidance and within six months, we had a 150-page report, which was pulled from the literature, everything there was on energy. Some right, some wrong. It was decently edited, but not perfect. And that became the first publication of our subcommittee. I had a chance to do a quick edit at the end, before it was published, because I'd now been on the staff. The staff evolution was interesting. I couldn't go to Capitol Hill in the office buildings after 5 or 6 o'clock because I wasn't on staff, so Mike found me a position. He had an open slot. I got $100 a month, and therefore, I got my ID card. I could walk in and out of the Longworth Building for sure, and if I could prove my business, I could go in and out of the Capital after hours. And my hours were long, so I was there a lot in the evening. At that point, living alone, single, not married. Mike was a freshman and had only been in office for about a year. His staff were still getting used to Washington, or in some cases, not used to Washington.
As they left, and he had to shuffle people, there was slowly extra money to give me, so I'd be able to pay my expenses in Washington. My salary went up over the next three or four months to a perfectly reasonable amount. Then, his administrative assistant left and went back to Washington state. He was uncomfortable in Washington DC. I think Mike asked him to leave, actually. And Mike asked me if I'd be his AA. An administrative assistant in Congress is the senior position in the office, and it's the AA's job to do everything. Manage the staff, get speeches written or write them, take any meeting the Congressman isn't going to in his place, if the meeting participants allow. That means any lobbyist, any constituent, any technical meeting, I took his place if he didn't want to go. Accompanied him to a number of the events. Some society would hold a banquet, and they wanted Congressmen to come and be lobbied.
If Mike didn't want to go alone, and he couldn't talk his wife into going with him, he'd have me go along and introduce him to the people he already knew because I knew their names, and he didn't, and tell him where he'd met them. I was a major assistant without appearing to be so externally. It was a total change from working in laboratories and staring at computer screens. I was dealing with the public often, giving lots of speeches. And we held hearings in the committee like crazy. We were allowed to do that. Because I was now helping staff. Tom and I became very close friends and colleagues, and we put out a number of publications, wrote legislation. We were very busy for the next five years, doing that. Then, he went over to be senior with AAAS, and I moved to the committee. Our positions changed.
ZIERLER: From the initial appointment in Congress, how long did it take before your work became solidified that you recognized this would be a long-term career option for you?
ANDELIN: I don't know that I ever thought of it as long term, but I thought of it as continuing term. I didn't see an end point, really. And when I got there, it was prompted by changing leadership. If I look back on it, I probably stayed with Mike a year or two too long because I had learned what I needed to learn about the political side of Congress, I'd helped him with a campaign or two. His campaign staff wanted him to say things that weren't quite true, and I wasn't willing to do that for him, so his campaign information on energy was the best information we had at that time.
And they would say, "No, you can hype this up, you can play this down." I said, "I can't. If Mike's going to overrule me, that's his business." And he didn't. I saw it as a very positive "year at a time," and I saw the last two years with him as a positive. But looking back, it didn't speed me through the rest of my life. That's all. It just was two productive years that I didn't need to do. The only reason I left being AA is because Tom left his job as subcommittee staff and moved to AAAS, and I was asked if I'd like to move to the subcommittee itself. The difference there is, without him, I wouldn't have had anyone I could've worked with to draft legislation. And if I was still in Mike's office, I wouldn't have had influence over drafting legislation quite as strong as if I were the subcommittee chief of staff. I said, "Yes, of course," and went over there, did that for a couple years.
And that's when I had a different kind of staff. In a Congressional office, my staff were a young guy that was active politically, a young woman who'd been to a school on conflict resolution, a good secretary, some people who were good at writing campaign literature. It was a group of soft public skills, very important ones. They made the office run. On the committee, I had people who were more technically oriented. By then, AAAS and other technical societies had created the Congressional Fellowship Program, so I often had a Congressional fellow with a PhD from some discipline working as an external fellow in my subcommittee.
I should back up on the way Congress works. We had this Subcommittee on Energy. Mike wrote a letter to all the technical societies, electrical engineers, physicists, biologists, saying, "I've got a Subcommittee on Energy. Tell me what's important. I'd like your information." It was greeted with mostly silence, except in November 1971, ASME, the mechanical engineers, said, "We've got a board meeting coming in town. We'd like to meet with you and answer your questions."
A meeting was set up, and Mike asked Tom and me to join him in his office 15 or 20 minutes before the meeting, as his sidekicks. We got there, and he said, "What am I going to ask them?" "Beg your pardon?" "Well, I'm here, and they're going to tell me what they know, but I want to ask them for something. I want help. What do I want?" We had this three-way discussion, and in effect, said, "We need a fellow. Send somebody to us." Mike said, "We need a fellow." A month or two later, an ASME fellow showed up on Capitol Hill. Many organizations had been talking about this for years. I know the Physical Society had been, AAAS had been. But to be upstaged by the mechanical engineers? A month or two after that, the electrical engineers had a fellow. The following year, the American Physical Society did, AAAS did, and the program had started.
AAAS, within a year or two, was really helping by training the fellows before they went to Capitol Hill. This is a program that still exists. It's expanded, it's now in the State Department as well. AAAS is training a lot of science and engineering fellows in government. And it started with, "What are we going to tell them?" "Let's ask for a fellow." Had we not done that, I think we'd have still had fellows a year or two later. But there was nothing coming in that year until Mike asked. People just wanted to be part of the team.
That's not an uncommon happening, very last-minute discussions, something will be settled, and you move on. I moved to the committee because it was the right time to move. Tom made a decision, and I followed it. I stayed on the committee until the next election. What happened then was, my boss, Mike McCormack, became chair of a nuclear subcommittee and asked me to be his chief of staff for that one. I had to turn it down because he was too enamored with nuclear power to be critical enough to satisfy the public concerns over safety.
He had been a Hanford chemist in Washington doing nuclear work. He wasn't afraid of it. He downplayed any of the criticisms and up-played any of the advantages, and he was very optimistic. He was technically sound, but I thought uncomfortably cheerleader-y. When he asked me to do that, I said, "No, I can't do that." And at that point, I'd been on Capitol Hill for seven years or so, and it was more than enough to learn what I wanted to learn. I turned down other opportunities to chair subcommittees. I could've done environment. At a later time, I was asked to run the Science and Tech Committee fully. That was 10 years later, after my OTA stint. I had opportunities to stay in Congress, circle back, but I had done what I could, which was learn. I'd produced most of the legislation I thought important in solar, geothermal, electric/hybrid vehicles, conservation. Those had passed pretty well, they were on the books. They were either being followed or not by the executive branch, depending on Carter versus Reagan.
I'd learned what I needed to politically; I realized I wanted to be staff, not a member of Congress. I wouldn't accept an appointment as a member. I didn't like what Members did, and I did like what I did. So I just resigned. I didn't have another clear opportunity. By then, I was married, so I had more time with my wife. I became an independent contractor, consulting personally. That ended the political side of my Congressional experience. Every bit of it was trying to understand the context of Congress, how to behave in it. It's totally different than the scientific community. Communication isn't the same, trust is not the same. It's a different world.
I wanted to learn that because if you want to make changes, that's the world you have to live with. I know how to argue science. I didn't know how to argue politics. I learned. Members are a different breed than any scientist I ran into. Scientists think probabilistically. "Is this true?" The answer will be, "Well, it's met every experimental test so far." That's not a yes. If you ask a member of Congress, they're like judges. Guilty, not guilty. Yes, no. It's a toggle switch. They don't have any nuance. Even if their belief is nuanced, what they say and do is definitive as much as they can, unless they're intentionally waffling. It's intentional political speak. It's totally different than anything in the science community. You can't be honest with them in your opinion. If you're too blunt in saying, "You're wrong," you've lost credibility or influence.
You've got to negotiate how you say they're wrong. You deal with lobbyists all the time. You have crazies coming in to tell you things they want in legislation. Some are very funny. Some of the staff proposed things that were funny in their absurdity. One senator's staff called me and said they wanted to make nitrogen illegal and asked if I'd cosponsor the bill because I was from the Washington delegation as well. Well, the Northwest delegation. That was another one where I had to say, "No, I'm not going to sponsor it, and I don't think you should." I think of that as one of my political mistakes. I should've let the bill be introduced because it would've been funnier. They pulled it at my recommendation. I still have all the newsletters and the press release that was going to go out with it, but the bill was never introduced.
ZIERLER: What did you gain, and what did you lose in terms of influence when you were considering the contractor opportunity?
ANDELIN: I gained personal freedom and the ability to sleep in in the morning, not having to jump every time somebody called a member of Congress and wanted me to do something, not having to couch my language carefully so I was correct, honest, kept my integrity but didn't always run flat into the opposition, or try to move them rather than show them I'm on their side. I gained a huge amount of freedom to speak and to act -- and I lost 95% of my influence. If you're Congressional staff, you can call or write to almost anyone at any level of any institution and expect an answer. Because they don't know who you really are. You could be the son of some very wealthy funder of a very powerful committee chairman. You could be sleeping with someone. You could be who knows what. When I was Congressional staff, both at the political office, and less so, but somewhat similar, at OTA, I had access to the information of the world. Not necessarily true information, people would lie to you sometimes, but I could get information from anyone.
That doesn't exist anywhere else I've ever been. Even when I was doing scientific research, other laboratories doing similar work would sometimes be a little bit cautious in how much they told us because they were competing. In Congress, outsiders were afraid of staff. Maybe not the secretary, but possibly, because they, too, could be sleeping with somebody or somebody's relative. They just couldn't tell. It was a totally different world. When I became a private contractor, my influence was that people knew me, and I would get a call, "Would you look into this issue for us, now that you're free, and you can write a real opinion rather than the opinion of the collective?" I had enough work for a year and a half or two years to keep me busy and enough time off. We had a small cabin in the woods, and we were living there about half the time, Thursday to Monday. And if I had to work, I'd work Tuesday to Thursday, Tuesday to Friday. Like Senators, Tuesday to Thursday club. I liked that.
ZIERLER: Once you became fully aware and comfortable in the contractor lifestyle, did you view this as a stopgap measure for a more permanent job, or did you think this might be a long-term solution for you?
ANDELIN: Clearly, stopgap. It was a pleasant experience for a while. You may have noticed from other things I said, I don't push planning as much as I probably should because–I don't know, white privilege, dumb luck, or something --I have had opportunities available to me that I didn't know about until I quit something, and then there they were. I was not thinking of it as permanent. I was certainly saying, "I'm going to go do something else." I assumed, in fact, I would probably go to a teaching college and do more teaching rather than doing the research, because by then I was way out of line for any research. No credentials in political science or in physics anymore. By then, I was eight years out. It was hopeless to go back. But I could teach the elementary courses, math or physics, pretty easily.
The question was, where in the country? I was glued to California by Caltech, my folks, and all my friends from high school and college. I really felt a Californian at that point. I'd been away for 10 years. I thought, "Maybe it's time to go back and get a job with one of the California State institutions?" I thought my credentials were good enough to do that, so I was confident I could get a job. Didn't know what it would be. My wife is very much an East Coast person by her early years, most of her life, and what I also realized in that timeframe was, California is different than California 10 years before. My friends had drifted around, my folks were getting older, I wasn't sure what they were going to do, and I didn't have a job in mind. I was dithering, stalling, taking the next opportunity as a private contractor to do something interesting. I did a very long study with Mitre Corporation and a colleague from the Library of Congress on coal, liquefied coal, coal mining, transportation, how coal fit into a new energy future.
That hadn't been any of my previous expertise, so I was pleased at the new information. This was when I was visiting West Virginia mines. It was fun, and I was learning. That was nice. What was then called the Energy Research and Development Administration asked me to do a paper on why solar and conservation programs weren't being picked up, weren't getting appropriations. My report on fossil energy with my colleague was probably 20, 30 pages and pretty good. We did another one on fossil having to do with fuel supplies, and we pointed out that diesel was likely to be more expensive than the others, and, "Watch out because the crude that produces diesel is in shorter supply, so you need fancier reforming to come up with diesel from other crudes, so it could be the one that gets short first."
But my ERDA report was about one page, and it was pretty straightforward. Everybody I interviewed -- the solar czar, the conservation czar, the geothermal czar -- thought they were in charge of everything, and none of them had any authority whatsoever. There were different messages going out all over the place. "Talk to me. I'm the one who knows it all. I'm going to do it." It was appropriations staff and Congress that was doing the funding, and it was somebody else in ERDA that was adjudicating between solar, conservation, and the traditional programs with traditional lobbyists, fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The solar and conservation folks were hopeless. They weren't going anywhere. All I said was, "Figure out who's in charge, and give them enough authority to ask for funding for new programs." I knew by then that some of the programs in the legislation Tom and I had drafted, with help from the Senate side, had stalled a bit because the Executive Branch didn't know how to run demonstration programs. They knew how to do aerospace or nuclear programs, high-tech programs.
Our first solar energy bill was for a heating demonstration program – we'd seen homes in Arizona with garden hoses or copper pipes on the roof that were heating the house in the winter. That was all we had to do, make those better and safer, because they were using house water, not separate systems, and there were contamination possibilities. And they weren't very efficient. The sun's free, so it doesn't matter if you're efficient or not if you've got enough copper pipe. DOE went straight to the aerospace contractors, and they spent $50 million on research instead of building $10 million worth of demonstration and $40 million getting data and research. They threw that program away.
I knew what was happening to our programs, and it was easy to see why. Nobody was really in charge except the budget people, who had lobbyists they'd worked with for years. If you're spending billions of dollars, and here's a $50-million program, it's in the noise. You can't put your attention to it. Here comes an aerospace company saying, "We can do that." "Fine. You've got the contract."
What was funny about my ERDA report was that they decided I never signed the initial contract with them, so I never had a contract. "Thank you for your report." I think they stiffed me for $1,000 or something like that, and I was very proud of that. I gave them a report they didn't want because I was totally free to do it, and I didn't know I was as free as I was. [Laugh] It was very nice.
Congress and Science Policy
ZIERLER: What was the timing? When did you move back to full-time employment?
ANDELIN: A couple years later, 1980. I got a call from Jack Gibbons, who had then been director of OTA [Congressional Office of Technology Assessment] for a couple of years, and he asked me if I would be an assistant director of one of the three divisions. I was thinking of California and taking some other job, and I'd played with Congress for a long time. Congressional work is stressful because you're watching your words all the time and because it's long hours, lots and lots of crises, mostly invented. But they're deemed to be crises at that moment, so you respond right then as if they were. It was not an easy long-term prospect. And I'd gotten out of it for two years with freedom. I told Jack no. He said, "The issue is, we've got a division director who just left." Semi-crisis. "And the division has not been turning out the work we've hoped it would. It has some issues, and I'm not quite sure what they are. The assistant director who left told me I have to fire a whole bunch of people because they're not doing their jobs, and I can't do that. Will you come in to evaluate them and tell me what's wrong?"
Just like I did at Oak Ridge, go in and take the health of things, then report back. I accepted a role as a contractor. II said, "I'll give you a couple months, see how this goes." It turned into 12 years, so obviously something worked. I did not take the advice of the person who left as to who to fire because that would've been a little bit arbitrary. I worked directly with the program managers. This was a staff of 60. When I'd been on the committee, I had a staff of six. When I was with Mike, I had a staff of 15 or 20, but they all had easy jobs. All of a sudden, I've got a staff of 60. Because I'm a contractor, they can't report to me. I had an assistant in the office who signed everything I decided.
I would tell him, "This is what we should be doing. It's ok to sign the paper." He was independent enough that he'd like to say, "I'd like to talk to you about it first. Let's do this" or "No, I won't." He was really good. He clued me in to that bureaucracy while I was this floating outside consultant helping the division. As it turned out, there were a number of people who should've been in another job. They were long-term bureaucrats. They wrote very good memos that were a little light on content. They were not very good at critiquing their staff work. The reports were inadequate, as I'd been told, and they were not managing them well. Many reports were overdue. That turned out not to be unusual. All of OTA reports wound up late. I'm exaggerating, but they were really hard to keep on track. Because they were dealing with issues of great consequence, being late for the intended deadline still meant they were actually 5 to 20 years too early. There was plenty of time for the issue, but not for what was promised. We had a bad rap for that. We shouldn't have promised, and if we did, we should've done it.
I accepted the job for a few months. I asked some people to leave after I'd given them a few months to show me what they could do, and because they were senior and had come from good jobs, all I said was, "We're not doing well together. I'm staying," which was not quite true because I was planning to leave, "therefore, you're leaving. If you find another job in the next month or two and resign, good, you've got it. If you don't, I'm going to have to go through some paperwork and ask you to leave more formally. You've done well in the past. You've worked hard here. But you don't fit either what OTA is or the way I like to manage things, so you're going to leave."
They all protested at some level. Everyone but one got a better job, and probably one they fit. Because they were good with communication, just not good at managing, they wound up more in staff positions than leadership positions. One gentleman came in and said, "I have to thank you for asking me to leave. My job is exactly the one I always wanted, but it pays less, so my wife and I didn't think I could do it. But I'm happier, the family's happier, and less is still plenty. Thank you for firing me."
I struggled with asking anybody to leave. I'm not sure how other managers do it. I didn't like it at all because I saw their future changing in ways they hadn't planned. What I managed to realize, though, was, if they left, somebody else would get a job. There were two lives being changed at once. One, I hoped, neutrally, if they went out and got a better job, and one positively, for those who came in and had a better opportunity. I did this rationalization to make myself feel better. Having done that then, later, when I was actually hired and managing, after three or four years, I would take my most senior staff into the office and say, "Have you looked for another job lately?" "Are you firing me?" "No. I want you to make sure this is the right job for you at this point in your life. Look around. If you find something better, maybe I should change my management style to keep you. If you don't, how wonderful you have a job you should be in. But go explore and learn."
This was the teacher part of me. I wanted them to graduate. They were doing really good work for me and getting better by the year, but it doesn't mean that was what they wanted to do forever. As it turned out, OTA was shut down politically in '95, so they all lost a job and had to go look. But most of my senior staff had already been looking on and off for the previous 8 to 10 years to see what else was out there. I don't know any that didn't land well or better. It was a nice trade-up. And I really enjoyed the conversations with them. Occasionally, someone would come in and say, "Yeah, you're right, I've been here too long."
When they'd come in and say, "I'd like that person's job. I want to bump up from project director to program manager," I wouldn't accept their application for two or three days. I'd say, "Think about what you really want. This is an opportunity, and it's right in front of your face. I get that. But wouldn't you like to look around first and make sure this is the right opportunity? If it is, I'll consider you. If it isn't, why are you asking me for that? Go for the other one. And if you like what you do, and don't want to step up and manage instead of doing the real intellectual work, stay where you are. We're going to give you raises. There's not much difference in salary." My own experiences personally led me to be more concerned about people staying in a job too long–as I said, with Mike, I stayed an extra year or two on staff–and doing what the right next step is.
Anyhow, after those I asked to leave had gone, we were in a board meeting with our Congressional advisors. Six Senators, six Congressmen, equally mixed with Republicans and Democrats, so it was a guaranteed split vote if anything was too political.
We were at the meeting, and Jack said, "By the way, I've asked John if he'd like to be permanent staff because he's already been managing. John, are you going to be permanent staff?" in front of the whole crew. I said yes rather quickly. First of all, OTA was doing wonderful work. Once the people who were not doing wonderful work had left, the remaining staff were really fun to work with. They were smart, imaginative, resilient, knew how to dig for resources, open, honest, took criticism beautifully. It was a great group to work with, and I realized how important the work was -- and would be today, if we still existed.
ZIERLER: What was so important about the work at that time? What did you recognize then?
ANDELIN: Every project had started with either a request from or the approval of a committee chairman or, equally important, a ranking member of the opposition. When I was there, it was a Democratic Congress, so it would've had to come from the chair of the committee or the ranking Republican minority member. Usually, from both. The two senior members on the relevant committees, the chair and ranking minority member, asked for the information, and they only did so with the agreement (often the initiation) of their senior staff. When we were done, we didn't have to disseminate our reports for them to matter, we had the pipeline directly. Straight in.
The only questions we took were the ones where the appearance was technological, and the fact was economic, social, political, medical as well. They had a high political content, important for the wellbeing of the community. Not just, "Do robots work? Can General Motors put them on their assembly line?" That's a technology analysis, not an assessment. There were academics who were talking about technology assessment that didn't understand what could be done in practice. They were talking about looking at technologies, and running them out into the future, and all of the effects they would have to two or three significant figures. "What's the increase going to be in the GNP? Employment?" The answer is, no one can reliably predict if there is going to be an increase or decrease, or if it's going to be helpful or harmful. If you can, you want to get the sign right. And then, you can go beyond that if you can. But these are hard things. Life-saving technologies for the elderly. That wasn't one of mine, but you can build technologies that save lives. What's the life like after it's been saved? Is it a high-quality life? What's the cost? Who's going to pay? Who's going to pay to develop these? It's not just, "Can they do it?" Most of the time, the answer to that is yes. Science and engineering just put up the Webb Telescope.
They can do miraculous things with modern technology. What are you going to do when you introduce them widespread in society? What are the effects? That gets tough. My staff had some technical people, economists, an English major who was a poet and a mystic, we had lawyers, doctors, mostly advanced degrees, but on any field you want. Environmental people, computer scientists. When we would build our advisory committee, we intentionally brought in lobbyists on both sides, and we knew they would be making the best case like lawyers do, and not necessarily giving us all the facts. If they weren't honest, we could figure that out, but if they were hiding facts, we'd have to dig. But if you bring them in on both sides, usually they'd do our job of getting the facts we were looking for. We'd get faculty people who wanted the depth of an analysis, we'd get political people who only wanted quick answers.
Our advisory committees were just wonderful things. Nationwide, sometimes international people if necessary. Some were secret, rarely from my division. One on adolescent health panel was absolutely confidential, all adolescents. Two of our very youngest staff members facilitated. Totally confidential, and we paid the adolescents to come. They were brutally honest about their issues. Great study. Nobody was quoted, and I don't even know if the advisory committee members were listed by name.
We had access to the world's information. When you're in Congress, you could get information. We could ask for anything, and probably got it. We had, typically, two to four years to do the job. Usually, promised two to three, usually two to four, some longer. We ran into some hiccups. Some studies ended soon. One of mine on air traffic safety ended with the advisory committee meeting. This had to do with whether two aircraft could communicate with each other so they don't crash in space. What kind of responders and transponders do you need, what kind of communication, who's going to be the one to blink first, who's going to communicate with air traffic control? We were asked to look into it. We had the meeting between the aircraft safety lobbyists and the aircraft industry making their arguments, looking at the political folks at the table and economists, and some of the indifferent aircraft engineers saying, "That job can be done with this technology." They asked for a recess on the meeting, went out in the hall, came back in, and said, "Done. We're cooperating on this. We'll write the regulations together. Thank you very much." It was the freest intellectual environment I ever worked in, other than being my own contractor.
ZIERLER: At this point, was the Congressional Research Service a resource for you?
ANDELIN: Oh, absolutely. All the time. The Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Research Service.
ZIERLER: At what point did you recognize that you were really at a path of leadership at this point, that your trajectory was leading you to where you ultimately ended up?
ANDELIN: Probably when I said yes to Jack, six months in.
ZIERLER: What was so formative about that affirmative answer?
ANDELIN: At that point, I was stuck for a couple more years, and you don't want to be stagnant, so I knew I had to grow into whatever I was doing and do it well. As I said, I had a really fortunate sidekick. He was a senior military person, now retired, and had done the world, had had lots of leadership in the military, which is pretty much, "Do it, or else," which you can't do with PhDs, poets, and my staff. "Or else," was not a good command. It was, "Convince me I'm wrong, then I'll do your suggestion." But the intellectual freedom was incredible. I think it was similar at Caltech, but I wasn't as aware of intellectual freedom versus constraints. I think at Caltech, I felt absolutely open. The things I remember about that were that the honor system worked flawlessly for me. It told me somebody trusted me, therefore I better be trustworthy, so it helped me think about myself.
And it said, "I don't much care what the other guy's doing. They're probably doing it honestly. If they aren't, that's their problem, not mine." That was key -- a wonderful thing. And the flexibility at Caltech. When I said, "I don't want to teach the class in class, I want to teach it in absentia by mimeographed notes back and forth and tutoring," the faculty said yes. Incredible freedom. Harvard was not intellectually free by any means. A Congressional office pretty much was, but you knew the lobbyists would lie to you, and you didn't necessarily know who the other side was. OTA, you had other people on your staff that were guaranteed to bring in all sides of the argument. You couldn't miss. We had full information, we listened to the ones who were crazy, or wrong, or biased, and in our reports, we'd say, "This organization is putting out this effort. We can't validate that. In fact, we have found evidence to the contrary." And we'd put that in our reports.
We didn't say, "We won't listen to you, we'll keep you out." We would say, "We disagree." We, as a staff, were independent, and we had to get this past the Technology Assessment Board, six and six, three and three. Three Republican Senators, three Democrats, and they had to agree. We couldn't afford ties. In fact, we got typically 12-0 approval on our documents. Now and then, 11-1 or so. We listened to all sides very carefully, we evaluated them with the best evidence at the time. There were issues within the staff, individuals, because we came from a different philosophy. And that was a tricky part of managing. As a scientist, I wanted my publications and my speeches to be right and stand the test of time, period. I didn't want it to be found out that I overlooked something at the time or miscalculated something, whatever it was. If I made assumptions, I had to make them clear.
In Congress, an analogy I've used is, the folk song Charlie and the MTA. He's stuck on the T. If his wife meets him at the station with a sandwich too early, it's stale, and too late, he doesn't get it. Congress had a number of absolute deadlines. They weren't necessarily real deadlines for the substance; they were political deadlines. There was going to be a vote, or somebody thought there would be a vote, or somebody was going to put on an appropriation bill. We had a deadline, which is unlike a science experiment. In my science experiment, if I had results I couldn't understand, I didn't publish, at the expense of my career. In Congress, if we promised a report that deals with acid rain, and they're doing a markup tonight on acid rain, they need our final information on acid rain now. I mentioned that you want to get the sign right. "Is this going to be a positive or negative in these different areas? And if it's negative, where?"
The broad landscape, and a little deeper, if you can. Good enough for the decision that's being made. It was painful because I like to be right, period. But if you've got really good information–in some cases, two and a half years of information with a team of three, five subcontractors helping out writing papers, this advisory committee, we've had meetings, we've done drafts, we've reviewed, it's not ready to go, but it's close. "Can we do a presentation based on what we have now, pre-approved, even?" The answer is yeah, we should. Who else is going to give advice?
On Capitol Hill, within the first couple months, I started using the words "elevator speech" when I was talking outside because I was giving advice in the elevator going up and down Longworth Building and in the Capital. Members were going over, looking for advice on a vote, and if it was something I really knew, I could say, "Absolutely, yes, this is right." If I had to read the title of the bill and the preamble, I would usually say, "I can't help. Talk to the chief of staff of your committee. They'll be on the floor. You've still got five minutes."
But sometimes, I would say, "Yeah, I know enough to know this is reasonable." I don't know for sure I knew enough, but I knew more than the Congressmen. I knew if the chief of staff of the committee was on the floor, it didn't matter what I said. The chief of staff would tell them what they wanted, no conversation or facts. It was a done deal. That was what the chairman wanted, that was where the vote was, unless you had a lobbyist on your side that pushed you hard enough to fight the chairman. I recognized that we had information better than anything else they would get. Was it perfect? Maybe not. Would it be better next week? Yes. The vote wasn't next week. I had some staff that wouldn't let things go and others who were happy to let it go a little too soon, which is when I'd get involved. One was probably the most difficult political negotiation I had as a senior staffer at OTA.
We had done a study before I got there on the breakup of AT&T. It was clearly a serious monopoly, and there was legislation all over to break it up. We were asked to look at the consequences of that. We brought in some economists and other people. The draft had been approved by our Technology Assessment Board to be released. The previous assistant director had approved it, Jack Gibbons had approved it, the board had approved it. All we had to do then was the final edit, publish, and release it. There I was, new to it. I didn't know much about the subject before that. I knew a little bit about economics because of Caltech and because I was a graduate student and took extra economics courses from Professor Sweezy, who gave me a nice, deep understanding. "Forget the figures, detail, calculations." I had a feeling of systems. I read this thing and said, "What's the evidence for this? Where'd you get that?" "That's one of our contractors." "Who's the contractor?" "AT&T." "Wait, AT&T wrote this analysis?" "Yeah, they're the closest to the real data." "But this is about AT&T." That was throughout the document. The AT&T lobbyists had helped draft the document.
I said, "Did we share this with the critics?" "No, there isn't time." I said, "I can't approve it." "Wait a minute, it's approved." "I can't approve it. I won't let this go out of OTA." I went to talk to Jack about it, and he said, "Are you sure?" He was worried about it, too. "What's the board going to think?" He'd already asked them to approve it. I went back over the minutes of the board meeting, and fortunately, one of the members said, "I'm concerned about this particular issue." It was not a big issue, but legitimate. I went back to Jack and the board eventually and said, "We have been unable to resolve this concern from the board, so the board vote is now invalid. And we believe the legislative process has moved far enough along that our report is no longer relevant to the legislation. We will put it in the Library of Congress for public display, no hidden facts, in the public domain, with a disclaimer on it, saying, "This was not approved by OTA. This was a rough draft." Jack survived it, which was the only thing I cared about. He could've fired me if he wanted. I think I was still a consultant.
I would've taken the blame in a minute. And people bought it. Some flack. It was AT&T that came back and really screamed at me. They wanted that report out because they helped write it. We just couldn't do that with the integrity of OTA. It was that kind of thing where I bonded to the philosophy, got the support of my boss, got the support of the Technology Assessment Board. But we also had an advisory committee through the whole thing that consisted of everybody important in the country in science, technology, and politics. It was a wonderful advisory group.
It didn't take long for me to think that OTA was important. We had three divisions, and one was energy, one was industry, defense, health, agriculture. Mine was science, information technology, education. I had all the cats and dogs, anything that came in that wasn't specifically defense, industry, agriculture, food, or health. It was fun to have every new subject come in, including some crazy ones. Members didn't always ask good questions. They asked for things that couldn't be done. We had to go back politely and give them a report based on what couldn't be done, and that was fun to do, too. Again, my skills before I got to OTA of how to talk to members–you don't contradict them, you improve what they said, so they still think they said it, in some sense. They buy in. I described OTA in those days as three divisions, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mine was the pursuit of happiness. Life was health, and liberty was defense and industry.
ZIERLER: At this point, prior to OTA, what was the reporting structure? Who reported to you, and who did you report to?
ANDELIN: As a private consultant, I had no employees. It was a one-man-show. I took a job with the postal employees about the safety of hydrogen-powered vehicles, another about solar energy. I worked with a gentleman from the Library of Congress who had a big Mitre contract, and he dragged me along on coal stuff for a while. That was my main income. Nobody reported to me. I reported to myself and wrote the reports in every case, except the fossil one. And that was only because I liked Harry Perry, who was the primary one doing it. He was a knowledgeable guy.
ZIERLER: To orient me in the chronology, what years were you starting to think about joining the OTA or about your next possible position?
ANDELIN: OTA, I started in 1980. I assumed it was temporary for a few months. Once I had a staff and work I really liked, and I was learning so much, I stayed. At that point, I said, "I'm here." I didn't think about leaving OTA much subsequent to that. By then, I'd been established in Arlington, married, my folks had moved east, I could still go to California to see friends if I wanted. Most of them were techies like me and came to Washington all the time, going to NSF or NASA. My social life wasn't very different than it would've been in California. I didn't think anymore of moving. As long as OTA was as interesting as it was, it was really – I hate to say the word -- fun. It was painful, demanding, at times when I had to critique our 300-page draft reports. It takes me, when I review things, maybe 10 to 15 pages an hour, and I had a long weekend to do it. It meant the long weekend was, "Goodbye to everything else. I'm reading a 300-page report that won't be ready when I'm done because I'm going to find problems." That was not fun, but it really felt important.
I was changing the text from jargon to that which a good high school junior could understand because it was going public, and public involves real people, and they don't all have PhDs in economics. Anyhow, I didn't think about changing jobs again. Congress was '71 to '78, first with Mike, then the committee. Then, I was private until '80, then I joined OTA, where I stayed until '93, and they closed down in '94. I'm a little sorry I left because if I'd stayed, I might've had more political influence, and maybe I could've kept it alive. I don't know. It's a very small chance. But once I was retired, that chance was gone. I had only two members of Congress I could convince, and they were on our side already. I felt politically impotent, which was painful.
ZIERLER: What was the transition from the Carter to Reagan administration like for you?
ANDELIN: We actually had more contact with Reagan staff than Carter staff, who didn't think Congress mattered. But I was frustrated with both. Because of Carter's enthusiasm for solar, the industry overbuilt. Reagan's complete flip from solar to fossil killed solar, which I'd been working on for nine years at that point. I was really unhappy with that transition. But in terms of continuing our work in OTA, Reagan was easy. We could talk to his staff. They gave us their advice, which was often not what we wanted to hear. But we'd put it in, then we'd look up the data, get some analyses, and we often said it didn't hold water. In fact, I think OTA was closed down because of a political flap over Reagan's Star Wars proposal.
I think my boss, Jack Gibbons, screwed up on that one. It was one of the major issues that shut us down, I think. Another one was my own division's nuclear waste report. That one was, by the committee staff standards, painfully late. In fact, it hasn't been settled today. Legislatively, nuclear waste was settled as of 1998, by the way, so there's no issue anymore. And we said, "That's crazy. Here's what has to be done first. It's a 20- or 30-year problem to solve." And they didn't like that, so they said, "We don't like the report." I crossed a couple staff on the Republican side, and I think they never forgave me. That may have been a piece of it. But I think the Star Wars flap is the main reason.
ZIERLER: Talk a little bit about the role of partisanship in science policy in the 1980s.
ANDELIN: Almost none in the 70s. Limited in the 80s. It flipped when Newt Gingrich got in as Speaker. Up until then, science policy had been pretty cooperative. As I said, OTA reports generally passed 12-0, and there were six Republicans signing off on it. I consider it the golden era. It really flipped in the early 90s and never flipped back, no matter who was in charge of what. It stayed more and more politicized.
OTA's disappearance truly changed the information available to those in Congress who wanted to do these bigger issues right. Our analyses were deep, thorough, and reviewed by all the partisans. We got the crazies, the knowledgeable, the political hacks, and had to deal with them, and had to give arguments that we accepted or didn't. They were vetted in a way that National Academy reports aren't.
The National Academy reports are really good. I would stand behind every one of them. I know many of the staff because many of my staff, when OTA broke up, ran right to the Academy. Others went to universities around the country. It's an interesting question about what's good for the nation. Breaking up OTA really hurt Congress's information on the effects of technological advances, really hurt their legislation for the ensuing 25 years but really helped analyses around the country because 150 really skilled analysts spread throughout the world. These "disciples" of OTA's policy changed the philosophy where they went. If I wanted to look back, I'd have to be a very good historian to say what the total effect on society was. Really pains me. What I wanted was OTA to continue and spin out its smart staff, not to dissolve and spin out all at once. I wanted a steady stream, not a burst.
ZIERLER: When were you named assistant director?
ANDELIN: Must've been '80, '81.
ZIERLER: It was right at the beginning. There was not a large trajectory for you.
ANDELIN: Jack wanted me to accept the job immediately. I knew what OTA was because I knew the legislation that started it. I'd helped work with people initially thinking about how to do the analyses, and I knew some of the senior staff, and I'd met the previous director. But when Jack came in as director and found this division in disarray, he specifically asked me if I would be the assistant director. No intermediate steps. I'm the one who threw in the intermediate step of saying, "No, I want to be a contractor," because I was thinking of California still. Six months later, the job was so attractive, I thought, "I'll stick with it a while longer," and it didn't take long before I felt settled in the East. Once my folks moved, there was little to no reason to consider moving to California. I could go visit my friends whenever I wanted. When my folks lived there, I saw my friends for a party or two. If my folks didn't, I saw my friends for three days when they came to visit. It was the better of both worlds.
ZIERLER: A lot of historians mark the testimony of NASA scientist James Hansen as really the beginning of climate change on the national policy agenda. I wonder, from your vantage point in 1988, if you recognized that in real time, the import of what he was talking about.
ANDELIN: Oh, yeah. By '88, I was talking about climate change in my speeches. We knew of James three or four years before that. I had one of my senior staff doing a white paper. We started our own study by then. We had a couple climate change studies. The project director wound up on an IPCC group, became a professor when OTA broke up, went on to be a member of the National Academy. Really, a super staff person.
The evolution of energy policy was, in the 70s, the worry was that we'd run out of crude oil and natural gas -- the USGS had done surveys and reasonable analyses, and they didn't know about fracking. The answer was that the reserves wouldn't sustain our use for generations, so we had a generation or two to get off of it. Nuclear was in political disarray. Technical issues came up along the way, of course, as reactors and companies had problems. Solar was struggling with cost.
We knew we had to go to solar and geothermal. The solar ideas were all over the map. The space satellite solar, ocean thermal solar, solar towers, solar photovoltaic, solar heating and cooling. Other solar materials that would get electricity from heat directly, thermoelectric materials. We had proposals for all kinds of stuff, including crazies. One guy wanted to put a propeller on the front of your car, so the faster you went, the more energy would go into your car, and the faster your car could go. You didn't need fuel, just a propeller in the front. You had to start it by blowing on the propeller, then your car would go. We had to disabuse the crazies. A lot of perpetual motion machines came in, including some whose proponents actually got to testify, against my recommendation. But the Congressman said, "I insist."
Then, the issue was whether nuclear would be part of the mix or not. Nuclear fuel has an issue as well. Uranium-235 is not in unlimited supply, and even after use, most of the energy is still in the fuel. You want to do a recycle, take that fuel and run it through a liquid-metal fast breeder reactor, for example. The LMFBR became a hot political topic. That's how you'd extend the uranium resource by a factor of 10 or 30, something like that. It would be almost unlimited. That became the hot political topic. Carter, with political pressure from the anti-nukes, stopped it and damaged our understanding about the nuclear fuel cycle. And that, I think, set back serious deployment, if and when the public decided it to be safe, for 10, 20, 30 years. The discussion about nuclear is just back in the last few years because global warming is starting to look dangerously real. It's not theoretical, it's not, "Models say…" It's, "Oh, boy, we don't want this." How do we stop some of the fossil fuels sooner? Nuclear power. "Yeah, but nuclear power…"
The questions that should've been settled in the last 20, 25 years haven't been. And that's just a disaster. That was a huge political mistake. Building the LMFBR wasn't going to cause more proliferation of civilian power plants, it would test the option to have more fuel available. Otherwise, you want to look at the fuel supplies. Where does uranium come from, what are the costs of its separation to 235, how much 235 can you get, are there political consequences, how much do we have here, what are the environmental consequences of mining something? Huge amounts of material are needed to get a small amount that's useful. All those questions.
Solar got shut down by Reagan. Carter's enthusiasm helped the fledgling solar industry build up too fast. We were overcapitalized, waiting for all these federal purchases, and Reagan came in and said, "We're not buying anything." A lot of the companies slumped, and that was a 10-, 20-year slump in the solar industry because they didn't have the market they were planning for. One of my favorite bills was the photovoltaic bill, which would've forced a market in photovoltaics by the feds until the price came down enough because of large-scale production. Once the production was large enough, the price would come down, and private industry would take over. That was what I had in mind with that bill when it was written and passed. It was working the first couple years, then Reagan.
ZIERLER: Did the end of the Cold War prove to be an ominous sign for the ultimate breakup of the OTA?
ANDELIN: I have no idea. I never correlated those in any way. I wasn't aware of it. There was a publication that some right-wing lobbyist wrote in '92 or '93, something like Fat City: What's wrong with the Federal Government's Budget. It said that there were too many agencies of no consequence. For some reason, he found OTA. We were one of his excess agencies. When Newt Gingrich came in, he had to cut the Congressional budget somehow. Didn't want to cut anybody's office or any of the committees. The Congressional Budget Office was still key, the Congressional Research Service was really key, GAO was really key. "Oh, look, here's a $20-million item we can cut." And the Republicans don't like it because Jack participated in a hearing trashing Reagan and his Star Wars program. Maybe some other things. That was loud and clear. They didn't like us for that.
We were small, we had no political clout, our Technology Assessment Board members didn't stand up for us, and even if they did, there were only 12 of them, and Congress was huge. There were only three Republicans in the House that could stand up for us that had any knowledge of what we did and a few ranking minority members. I'd had this prior training in Mike's office and on the committee and really knew how being a minority member can rankle. In my division, I paid extra attention to minority members. They weren't always my sponsors, they didn't always sign in. I made sure I heard from them or visited them, or my staff visited their staff. I wanted to say, "We want to hear from you. Yes, it's the committee chair that asked, but you're in this, too." I didn't hear that as strong in the other divisions, and I don't know if that was real, if I didn't hear it right, or if they weren't as careful. If they weren't as careful to include Republicans, there'd be members scattered here and there, ranking minority members, who were annoyed with OTA. When Gingrich said, "It's $20 million. Let's cut it out," it was easy. And they did. And there was a bit of a fight over it, but mostly letters from academicians. They don't have big power in Congress. Industry didn't care. In fact, probably some of the industry people were annoyed with us. The Star Wars industry clearly didn't like Jack's testimony either, so they piled on. I think we had industries that were, at best, neutral, some against us. Academicians in favor of us. Republicans on average kind of against us. A political need that said, "We've got to cut some money in Congress," so we were the obvious scapegoat. We just didn't have the support to buck it.
I had very good political connections with a number of senior politicians, House and Senate. I knew their staffs really well. I didn't know many members -- Al Gore, George Brown, a few others, my own committee. I knew 10 or 15 members I could personally lobby. If I'd stayed on at OTA, either as an assistant director, or if I'd been made director after Jack left, I might've had more influence, but I don't think nearly enough. I think the forces were way against us, probably for years. We were the easy choice for cutting the budget. I think the OTA was dead in '92 as far as the groundwork. As soon as the Republicans took over the House, that was it.
ZIERLER: How did you receive the news?
ANDELIN: I'm sure through staff scuttlebutt. I was retired, but I had staff that still asked me questions about their studies, I had lunches, people who were stuck on a problem and wanted to talk to me. There were complaints about the person who followed me in the office. I said, "I'm sorry. That's your new boss, I'm not. You have to learn how to deal with it. Here are some suggestions." I chose not to be director. I'd been way too long in one job. My philosophy is always that if your job hasn't changed under you to be more exciting, you should change every five to seven years. I'd been assistant director for a dozen years by then.
I should've said, "Yeah, I'll be director if you want." But I was just hedging into 60, my folks were 20 years older and had celebrated their 60th anniversary only last year. My wife was way involved in the refugee and immigrant community, bringing them home, and so I was I. I had another life as a mentor that was absolutely full. I knew that the change in administration just when Jack left was going to be so severe in terms of the staff shuffling and competing, it wasn't going to be much fun, so I said, "I don't want be director." Some really good people applied to be director.
The one they picked turned them down, so six months later, they went back and picked a different assistant director. If I'd still been working there, maybe it would've been me, but I wasn't going to commit to the three to five years to make the changes in OTA I thought needed changing. They weren't big, but they were important. And Jack had been on a different level, doing different things, keeping us alive, keeping our budgets. He wasn't focusing on what I would've focused on, assuming I had the time to focus on it once I was director. I just couldn't see three to five years at that point. Too many personal responsibilities.
ZIERLER: In our first talk, we covered your post-retirement life. For the last part of our talk today, a few retrospective questions about your career, then we'll end looking to the future. First, throughout your career in policy, in government service, what stayed with you in terms of the perspective you gained at Caltech, either from the science itself or collaboration?
ANDELIN: I learned in Congress that a single person can probably kill something, but you need a huge number of people passively or actively supporting something for it to happen. It isn't just Congress. Once it's out of Congress, assuming you've got appropriations on your side, too, you need the Executive Branch, and you need the lobbyists to either give up or continue their support. Collaboration came through so loud for making major changes. If you are truly charismatic or have a huge amount of muscle, you can cause a change temporarily or force a change temporarily, but unless you've got the consensus behind you, one change of administration, one assassination, one I-don't-know-what, and you can flip that. Consensus of a larger team is really worth working for.
I used every hint of analytical skills I had to go over the review of the documents when they were on my desk to be signed off on. I pretended I was a 17-year-old. "What will I learn or not learn from this?" Because I knew so many fragments of science, policy, economics, English communication from Caltech–every piece of Caltech was sitting there on some level, way diluted. I'd forgotten a lot. But the ability to analyze things, I don't think I've lost, even yet. I could go over those documents and give critiques unlike those they were used to.
I realized that I made three different kinds of critiques. One is, "Change it, this is wrong. It's either too complicated, too much jargon, or factually wrong." Or, "This doesn't come across as strong as it could. I don't think there's time to change it. You're welcome to if you can." And, "Oh my God, next time you do this thing, do this better." The staff didn't always pick up the, "Oh my God, do it later or again." They thought I meant right now, when the deadline is a week away. I had to explain to them, "You're still working here. We've got more assessments. Next time, do this." I had to learn to make different notations, something like "Not now, but here's a critique. Don't even try, we don't have time." And that's an example of the good-enough philosophy -- something I had to learn since Caltech. In Caltech, I didn't have a good enough philosophy because I didn't have deadlines that mattered. The only deadlines I ever had were finals, and I did good enough. Then, my PhD finished, and it wasn't good enough. I did it right as far as I could do. There was nothing more to do but my adjustments and hope people accepted my assumptions.
I've never stopped paying attention to science. I still read science magazines, I still talk to people about science issues, I still understand broad principles. That was clearly part of what I did in Congress. The other thing, I think, that came from Caltech was, I really liked teaching. It's only the accidents of my life that meant I didn't stay a teacher and go into academic life. I really enjoyed this freedom I had to not teach third-quarter sophomore physics. And it worked. It taught me that you can teach in multiple ways, not just standing in front of a classroom. That was the equivalent today of flipping the class. Instead of, "Come to class and I'll lecture to you," it was, "Do your work outside of class, then you meet with me. I'll give you more time than a class would be because I really want to try this. And you can communicate by paper. I'll give you tests all semester, but you can take them or not as you see fit. If you think you know it all, don't bother. If you take it, and you're worried, I'll grade it. If you want to write a paper, I'll grade it. Do what's interesting. If you find a chapter out of these multiple chapters on different subjects that's interesting, dig into it. Tell me what you learned. I'll tell you what you should've or could've learned, or you can teach me."
I was able to teach at OTA and in Congress. I never stopped teaching, though I had multiple modes that may not have been as effective as when you've got a class that's beholden to you. But that's still my main role with these refugee and immigrant kids, thinking about life's issues with them. To do that, you need their collaboration, and they need to trust you. And that, again, comes out of, I think, the honor system. I learned in Congress no member or staff will pay any attention to you unless they trust you. If you've got any hint of an ulterior motive, you're talking to no one.
How do you build that trust? You have to know who they are. If they say, "What's a good position on this bill?" you can't say, "You have to vote for it because it's a really good bill." You have to say, "You raise a lot of corn in Iowa. Corn to ethanol as a substitute for gasoline is critical to your economy. The ethanol and the gasoline may not be a good program environmentally, it may not help with the transition from fossil fuels, it may not be a good program for the public, but you've got to balance that yourself. I'm not going to tell you which way to go. You've got corn in your district. I don't happen to like ethanol and gasoline for my reasons, but you've got to make up your mind." You do that to a Congressman once or twice, you've got their ear. And then, don't abuse them. If they trust you, don't screw around with them.
Al Gore and I did a lot together on global warming when he was on my committee and when he went over to the Senate. And my staff worked with him extensively from OTA. One of my staff was almost his staff person working on climate change. And that's because he learned to trust me initially, then my staff, then OTA, the whole process. That's critical. Same with kids, too. To have them trust you, they've got to get to know you, and you've got to know them and their issues. If they come from a culture where the treatment for disease, according to parents, is something we don't do, cupping or hot coins on your back, "If your folks do that, that's fine. Scientifically, by Western medicine, that's not typically done. Tell me more about your symptoms. What you might want to do is go see an orthopedist." You can't be flat-out, "Your culture's wrong," or they'll never trust you again. You can say, "Your culture is one of many. Your religion is one of many. Many of them have the same goals, to make you a better person, a healthier person, a more moral person. Their goals are similar, so they're all acceptable at that level." The details, you can argue about. People disagree.
ZIERLER: Of all your accomplishments on the Hill, what do you think is most significant? What has stood the test of time for science policy?
ANDELIN: The development of technology assessment. The stuff I did on the Hill before that were bills of historic significance, maybe, a solar bill here, an electric hybrid vehicle here. They changed the tenor and tone of the time a bit, led to discussions, helped some of the solar lobbyists point out Congress was with them. But technology assessment, which was established by my predecessors seven or eight years before I got there, I think I improved it. And the individual reports were very different than passing a bill. I've got one on my desk now that's on educational testing, and it was done 30 years ago. It's still valid. The one on nuclear waste is still valid. The one on climate change is still valid. I can go right down the list. Any of them that didn't have a definitive bill that passed (or broke up AT&T). There's one on computer viruses. "Hey, guys, computer viruses are a thing." "What's a computer virus? I've never heard of it." We were dealing with it and saying "before the technology gets ahead of itself, we have to start building in protections against viruses." What we wound up saying in technology assessment more often than not was, "Before you let the technologies go according to what industry wants and can do, and what the public will buy, think very hard about the social, economic, environmental consequences. Who should be dealing with those, whether there should be regulation or free market. If it's free market, at what point do you say, 'Whoa, that's a little bit too free'? And at what point do you say, 'The regulations are too tight. Ease up a bit'?"
The flight of technology assessment isn't a ballistic missile, it's clearly guided. "Here's what we should do today because we want to act today. By the way, doing nothing is taking action. You're saying, 'This doesn't matter enough to do something.' That's the most dangerous action you can take -- 'It doesn't matter.'" That's what they did with climate change. "Doesn't matter. Too complicated, too expensive." Oops. The whole process of technology assessment relates to pointing out what a decision and a non-decision really mean, how you don't stick with either one as the real world unfolds over time–you can't make a good decision perfectly at any given time. "We need to do something about climate change," is a good decision. "What do we need to do? Ocean thermal, that may not be the right idea. Sticking iron particles in the atmosphere may not be the right idea." Those were all suggested. Maybe you don't pick them right away, but you do research on them and do what you're more comfortable with soon, which, at that time would've been much more energy conservation. Carter blew that one because he said, "Turn down your thermostats, put on sweaters, be miserable. It's important."
Wrong messaging. You save on energy, you save money. You put a couple hundred bucks of insulation in your house, you're more comfortable, not less. You caulk the windows, you're more comfortable, not less. You save money. Yes, in the long run, maybe there'll be some discomfort. Because so little has been done since the late 80's, fixing global warming now, will result in economic discomfort that's going to be significant. If we don't start now, we've got even bigger discomfort later. Avoiding those little issues then was wrong, and Carter made it look like it's sacrifice when it wasn't-- then. It can be, eventually. Now, cutting out fossil fuel use entirely will entail sacrifice. And we're going to do it, I hope. How you do that is going to mean you need something else for airplanes. You're not going to have cargo jets flying on solar. Hydrogen? Who remembers the zeppelins?
Those decisions have real impact. We tried to say, "Decisions, including non-decisions, are really important. Be aware of it, be aware of the consequences." I don't know about my contribution. I hope it was there. I think so, my staff thought so. I had staff I got along with very well socially, personally. They wound up asking for criticisms. They said, "This is as far as we can go. We need your help." And then, I knew they could take what I said and really do a job.
ZIERLER: Finally, on that note, looking to the 1995 period all the way to the present, my last question is, what has been irretrievably lost as a result of the breakup of OTA, and where have those pieces effectively fallen to other government offices?
ANDELIN: Nothing else in Congress has replaced them at all. The Congressional Research Service is very good at short-term responses. Essentially, they're a personal Google. You ask them a question, and they can get back in the hour because the question will go to somebody who's already an expert with the source material in hand, and they know where to look quickly. They can get you some good answers. They can do some longer papers, but longer means one person for a few weeks, maybe. Today, maybe a couple months. It's very different than the team of five with half a million dollars. Today, that would probably be a million and two years, three years, and every consultant you could ask for. The Congressional Budget Office still does its Congressional budgeting, and that hasn't changed any. GAO has a stealth technology assessment piece.
I don't know what they call it now. It has those words in it somewhere. It's a small group, 10 to 12 people, and they're doing something like that. But they still have to address the auditing function and government programs, not the national issues that technology assessment dealt with at OTA. The beginning of an assessment, we looked very broadly. Every screwy idea in the world. Every idea. Then, we sorted through them, picked the ones that mattered, and dug deep. My job there was to be sure the team looked wider and wider at the beginning. Then, "That's wide enough. Let's start digging deep." They ignored me, of course, because they already knew what they were doing. But I got a little bit to wave the baton at an orchestra that knew what it was doing. I helped with the timing. I reminded them, "It's okay now to stop looking." The GAO is doing some. I have not seen a study that matches what OTA would have done. I think they're valuable, I'm glad they're doing it, but they can't admit to it very loudly because they're supposed to be doing evaluation of federal programs. If something isn't yet a federal program, they have trouble evaluating it. As I said, it's pretty much stealth. I spoke to them a little bit when they started, gave them some thoughts. Several of my best staff talked to them. I think they're on the right track entirely from what we knew. But they've got constraints.
The staff at OTA really spread out when it closed. One of my best ones wound up in San Diego looking at cutting-edge biotechnology. He's a vice president now or something. Another one, my climate change expert, went to the University of Michigan. Many of them went to the National Academy and did good reports. I've seen some of the reports since. But I didn't keep in close touch. My world had changed. It wasn't what I did after I left. I told them, "I'm available any time for lunch, a phone call, critiques." I had contacts for a few years, then less and less.
Now, it's just a few Christmas letters, a once a year lunch with a friend at GW University. Because my life changed. I'm deep into education, and immigration policy, and racism. When you're a white, privileged person and discover how many things in our society you weren't thwarted because of–I don't know how much I was helped by being White, but I'm sure white privilege is real. And I see colleagues, students, and young people who have barriers, and if they were white, they might not. We've got to get rid of that.
So, I work hard with the county and the schools. And I see kids that aren't ready to go to kindergarten, so I work with parents. How do you reach parents before their children go to school? I don't know.
There are so many things I want to change. I don't think about OTA, but. I still talk about education policy because that's what I've done my whole life in some funny way. I was talking to the Caltech Y probably 10 years ago now on their science policy trip, and they said, "You've had a crazy career. How'd you jump around so much?" I really never did. I've always been interested in problems that I thought mattered, where the answer wasn't well-known, doing what I could to help. Whether it was liquid helium, solar physics, Congressional energy policy, OTA, kids and refugees, education, society, nonprofits. I'm embedded in nonprofits now since I've retired. There's no change. There are plenty of problems.
ZIERLER: On that note, this has been an incredible series of discussions. I'm so glad we connected, and it's such a treasure for Caltech history. Thank you so much.