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# Elsa Garmire

### Sydney E. Junkins 1887 Professor of Engineering, Emerita

##### By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project

December 21, 2021

DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Tuesday, December 21st, 2021. I am delighted to be here with Professor Elsa Garmire. Elsa, it's wonderful to be with you. Thank you for joining me today.

ELSA GARMIRE: Yes, happy to be here.

ZIERLER: Elsa, to start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?

GARMIRE: Well, at the present time, I'm emerita faculty member from Dartmouth College, the Thayer School of Engineering. I went there as Dean of Engineering for two years, ran into a freight train going the other direction. Let's put it this way. I was the first woman to be dean of an engineering school that did research. I won't get into that era. Fortunately, in this interview I get to go back well before that, 20 years before that. But I stayed and remained emerita, and I stayed and taught for 20 years, so I ended up as a named professor. [laugh] I retired in 2016, when I was 77. I stayed at Dartmouth another 10 years because I really liked the teaching, and tried to do it well. I'm a little embarrassed that I left and came to Santa Cruz – to get out of the cold – but also to be close to children and grandchildren. I'm writing a book on nonlinear optics now that I'm retired.

ZIERLER: Well, Elsa, I'd just like to orient researchers. What we're going to do today is discuss and focus on your time at Caltech. Researchers who want a more fulsome understanding of your life and career, I would point them to two excellent oral histories that you gave: one in 1985 with Joan Bromberg. That was—the location there was USC. That is in the Niels Bohr Library at the American Institute of Physics. Then the other is an interview more recently in 2019 with Sharon Lin, which is available in the MIT Archives. Today, what I'd like to do is focus on your time at Caltech, and delve into a little bit more on the technical side what you were doing during your postgraduate years. Just to set the stage a little, before you came to Caltech, where were you immediately prior?

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: [laugh] That was before Harvard went full coed yet.

ZIERLER: Was it Charlie Townes that you specifically wanted to work with?

GARMIRE: No. No, when I went to MIT, I was very naïve. You have to realize that when I applied to MIT, the laser hadn't yet been invented. It was literally as I went into my last year of college that the laser was demonstrated. So, it was very, very new. Interestingly enough, I had had a summer job at Argonne National Laboratories, where I heard a lecture by Bloembergen, who was one of the early pioneers in lasers, only it was the maser he was talking about. So, from him I had learned all about stimulated emission before I went to MIT. But I really had no idea. I will go into a little bit detail because I really think setting the stage of what the world was like technically is important for women.

ZIERLER: Elsa, what was Townes like as a person?

GARMIRE: A real gentleman. He was the southern gentleman. He had four daughters, and so he was willing to take on a woman student. I'm sure I was incredibly hard to work with. I found out later that his wife really didn't like me [laugh] because I wasn't like one of his other students [laugh], and I think—let me just give you one example just to set the stage. I took quantum mechanics, and, like everybody, I learned all about the quantum theory of lasers. He never talked about quantum theory. He insisted on doing it all classically. I didn't at that point really understand that the simpler you could explain it, the better you understood it. You know, Einstein's E = MC2. So, one day, I challenged him; I wanted him to finally show me how to do the quantum mechanics of lasers. So, he went up to the board, and even though he was this provost, sure enough…he worked it out in detail and showed how it got the same as the classical result. So, what I learned from him is to think about things deeply, thoroughly, and simply, if you possibly can. And keep it as simple as you possibly can (said first by Einstein).

ZIERLER: Elsa, was Townes already interested in applications of the laser or this was purely basic science at this point?

GARMIRE: No, there was clearly an understanding that the way to get money was to be able to go to, in those days, the military, and find military applications. No one predicted that the ruby laser was going to turn out to be so intense. Nobody ever thought of it for blasting holes in things. Townes had been thinking about optical communications, and the knowledge that you could modulate light at picosecond speeds was instantly thought about. The minute one thought about it, it became obvious that if you could modulate light, think of all the information you could send. Bell Labs was working very, very hard on it. They jumped on the laser immediately. In fact, Townes was there as a consultant and started them on lasers since he and Schawlow wrote the first theoretical paper on how to make a laser. Communications is what they were aiming for. [laugh] What was interesting – I once asked him, when he started getting money for the laser, the Nobel Prize, what he spent his money on. He said he invested in companies selling optical components because he realized that there was a huge future in providing for lasers. So, he didn't work on lasers directly at all, really. His interest was in what you could do with laser light.

ZIERLER: What was his style as a graduate mentor? Did he give you your thesis project, or did you come up with that on your own?

GARMIRE: That's a good question. Ultimately, I came up with my own ideas. But I'm trying to figure out why. Well, I was doing numerous experiments with my laser. One of the things that Townes wanted to do right away, as soon as we got our laser up and running, was to make it an ultra-powerful laser. I had to be able to use a technique called Q-switching, which was invented in about my second year. So, through Townes' friends—I mean, the advantage is that he was well-known and he had friends at MIT Lincoln Labs. We got a lot of equipment from them that we could just plug in and get going. So, I set up a laser that really was so powerful that it could break down the air, i.e. ionize the air. Townes immediately wanted me to search for X-rays. I had fun setting up my Geiger counter, but we didn't have a powerful enough laser for X-rays. This proves how much Townes was interested in what you could do with the laser.

ZIERLER: Elsa, what do you see as your primary conclusions and contributions with your thesis research at MIT?

GARMIRE: Well, where [laugh]—mine are separate from anybody else's. That's a good question. What I did was convince him to hire a graduate student who I knew from my class who I knew was a really bright guy. His name was Raymond Chiao. He ended up a professor at UC Berkeley. He suddenly had this idea of using lasers to make particle accelerators. This was in 1962…two years after the laser was invented. People were really thinking a lot about applications. I brought him to Townes to talk to him, and so Townes hired him. So, it was the two of us all four years—all three years, I guess. The last three years, a lot of work we did together, and then we kind of split the results up for our theses. The first work that came out was really my research with Townes on the stimulated Raman effect. He thought he understood in terms of parametric amplification of coherent waves. He obviously got me involved, and it fit with all the experimental results I'd been having. We published that, explaining how the anti-Stokes comes out of a stimulated Raman experiment as a parametric process, which is separate from the stimulated emission. He was the one who showed me so that I really understood, that there's basically two ways you can amplify light. One is with stimulated emission, and the other is with this process called parametric amplification, and that's a whole different process that lies within nonlinear optics. You can look at the generation of laser light and then, on the other hand, nonlinear optics, and there's many ways in which they do the same thing. An advantage of nonlinear optics is that it is very low noise compared to lasers when you talk about amplifiers. Its disadvantage is it's very weak [laugh] and needs very high-powered lasers, and so it was fun. This stuff is all a tradeoff. But Townes was always interested in the basic science. I've always [laugh] tried to do both physics and engineering[laugh], which is probably a mistake, but I tried to run down the middle. I'm what you really would call applied physicist, which is what Yariv said he was, yes.

ZIERLER: Elsa, when you defended, what were your options, what were your goals, after MIT?

GARMIRE: I went home to raise my baby. I had my baby the day I was proofreading my thesis in the hospital—

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: —and I went home to raise the baby. My husband was assistant professor at MIT, and I was going to be a 1950s housewife—well, it was '65 but, you know. After a month trying [laugh] to take care of this wonderful child—much easier than my second turned out to be but, anyway I was bored. So, Townes got me a position as a postdoc, and I came back and worked for a year. It was then from that position that Gordon decided he was going to go to Caltech. So, I applied for various positions in that whole surrounding So-Cal area, and decided to be at Caltech because it was right next door.

ZIERLER: Elsa, is this to say that you toyed with the idea of leaving the profession entirely, and being a housewife?

GARMIRE: For some period of time. My role model at that time was a woman who had children—actually five daughters—and stayed home—had a PhD in astronomy, stayed home to raise them, and after they went off to school, she went back and became a professor of astronomy. There were role models out there. I was unlike people like Millie Dresselhaus. Of course, there were no women at Caltech to compare myself to, so I would compare myself with Millie Dresselhaus. Do you know what she wanted to do? Do you know how hard it was for her to get a faculty position? I don't want to put her down at all, but she was working with her husband, and that just helps tremendously. They were working together. She also happened to be working in a field that recently everybody has jumped into. But even for her, it took 10 years of research at MIT Laboratories before she got a faculty position at MIT. She was the first woman to have such a faculty position. So, no, my idea was that I would keep myself occupied by doing research. When I went to Caltech, that was my plan to continue to do research. It kept me from being a "bored housewife." [added in proof; I worked part-time the entire time I was at MIT. From 10 AM to 4 PM (no lunch). I did this for 7 years. At some point I was promoted to Senior Research Scientist. I made very little money, but did it for the love of the activity.]

ZIERLER: Elsa, it sounds clearly that your attraction to Caltech was more about your husband's opportunity, and the fact that it was easy. Were you not looking specifically at Caltech as an exciting center of research where you had people like Amnon Yariv, who had recently arrived?

GARMIRE: I didn't know who Amnon Yariv was. He was not in nonlinear optics. When I went to Caltech, I interviewed with two people because of my field, and Amnon was one, and the other one I won't bother to name. But I could tell you I knew that he was not a forefront researcher, and ultimately he didn't stay. He already had a faculty position and an optics lab. I don't know whether he was tenured or not. He was probably an associate professor. He was well-respected in applied optics, but I wanted to be doing the basic science. [laugh] It also turned out that Caltech was in the same block as my house. My laboratory was in the same block as my house. Now, how could anybody do better than that? I found out immediately that there were no women in the building (Steele) expect secretaries and the librarian.

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: The other place I applied to was a really, really good research lab out in Malibu—my goodness, living in the condos—the Hughes Research Labs, and that's where the first laser had been demonstrated. They also had no women, and I had a strange interview when I went there. None of them knew how to talk to a woman. Small-talk was deadly. I didn't follow through. It turns out later that they told me they didn't think I was interested because I didn't follow through. We couldn't have gone anyway. It was an hour and a half drive each way, and I was, quote, "happily married." Just to set this straight, that marriage ended just as I was leaving Caltech after 14 years of marriage. That's another little story.

ZIERLER: Elsa, what were your goals at Caltech? What did you want to accomplish?

GARMIRE: Exciting science that I would be known for, that I could give lots of exciting talks about, papers at conferences, yes. It was so unbelievably exciting to be around Townes—not only because he was so good but he attracted all sorts of brilliant, wonderful people from all over the world. He was so well-known. He was just so polite and nice to everybody, and well-known in Washington. He had taken over and run IDA, the Institute for Defense Analyses for two years. After he succeeded with his maser research, he left on sabbatical from Columbia, and went to Washington. I think in reality, he was in the place where he had done what he knew was extremely important. He later told me he didn't want to have to compete with all the people jumping into the laser field. He would be just one of masses working to improve lasers. He wanted to experience what it was like to be valuable to the country. It was after Washington that that he decided he would try management instead of research, so he came out to MIT with the idea of university management. Provost was a position where he was essentially promised to become president but there was a—I mean, that's a whole other story. He was involved in pushing to get man on the moon, and some people at MIT were very much against that. They thought it was a waste of money to put a person on the moon. I don't know. I heard these words but it might've been gossip. It was one of these high-level people that had said, "We just can't have him running MIT." I guess there were some personality issues too. So, they ended up hiring the head of the business school, MIT's business school at the time, Johnson or Jackson? Johnson, I think, was his name anyway. I left before Townes did. He was still provost when I left, because we went to California for my husband's career, and also I was ready to go out and see what I could do on my own. I had been around genius, and I wanted to see if I was "a genius," and I didn't have a whole lot of self-confidence [laugh], I'll tell you. If I'm giving any negativities to Caltech, it's that there was absolutely nothing at Caltech to give me self-confidence, at all.

ZIERLER: Why is that? Specifically as a woman, or something else?

GARMIRE: Yeah, specifically as a woman; and possibly my way of doing engineering, which I think is pretty different from a lot of standard engineers. I'm of the opinion, and just from—again, I go back a long way. I really do think that I learned in a different way than the guys did. There's been a lot of research about it, and I don't know about women today so I won't make any pronouncements about today's women. But I do know that I really needed to understand the proof before I would accept the reality of what I'm supposed to know. Most of the successful men were merely saying, "OK, if this is the equation, I'll use it," and go on and do the problems. I was so insecure about doing the problems that I would spend all my time really trying to get the proofs. That's part of it. The rest of it is that as again has been well proven—now, frankly, I've now been part of" this whole feminism thing" itself for 40 years; I don't think it's any different than it was. The problem is that women were not self-confident—the usual thing is if you got 50% on the exam, and you were a woman, you said, "Oh, my god, I'm going to have to leave the field. I'm no good." The man would've said, "Teacher's lousy; gave a bad exam."

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: It's the way the culture was. There's been a lot of attempts—efforts to change the culture. I think there's been some change in the people and the culture, both, but it's a very slow movement, and I think it's still going on and affecting—now, it's mostly minorities that are [laugh]—underrepresented minorities, in other words, Blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans, I think, are having the same problems. You're expected to succeed, and if you don't succeed, there didn't used to be ways to help you. Now, I think there's a lot more tutoring than there used to be. The answer is, I mean, if you really want to know, I figured it out myself only two weeks ago when I happened to find a letter my father wrote about me when I entered Harvard. Harvard asks you—and I know because I had a daughter there—they ask the parent to describe their children, and Harvard keeps that information to sort of ground itself in understanding you as an individual. My father said, "The thing that Elsa really wants is challenge, and without challenge, she's bored." [laugh] I think that's absolutely true. My whole life has been that way. Every time that something negative happens, I just get challenged. and try harder – or move on to something else.

ZIERLER: Elsa, beyond the desire to make a big impact, to change the field at Caltech, specifically, what were the frontiers in laser research at the time? What was available for you to push the research into new directions?

GARMIRE: Well, the part that I knew about was nonlinear optics, and so that was what I was hired to do. We came and we did—I'm proud of the first thing we did, which was that he had me develop the theory of saturable absorber mode locking, which was very fashionable at that time. As you know, these fields have time constants. Powerful lasers had been invented, and researchers discovered "mode locking", which enables emission of a periodic set of pulses that could be very, very short in time down to picoseconds, 10 to the minus 12 seconds. That was very exciting. Nobody had ever made such short pulses before, so we were all interested in how you measure these pulses, etc. So, Yariv got somewhat interested in this—I did too—and we did some research in that brand-new area. Our paper was the first theoretical paper that looked at pulses bouncing back and forth inside the laser, and how a saturable absorber couples modes together and creates ultrashort pulses. It was definitely a foundational paper. I don't think it's referred to very often because it was followed five years later by very high-quality work with a lot of computer analysis and comparison of different geometries, while we were doing it sort of on the back of the envelope. I think that was important work. [During this time I was setting up a Q-switched ruby laser like I had at MIT. Yariv planned to use this equipment for testing mode-locking with a new optical nonlinearity (OKE) and prove it by varying temperature. This was one of the first papers combining the laser field and nonlinear optics. This work was followed a paper I wrote with a grad student on second harmonic generation from ultra-short pulses. This was the first prediction of the effect of ultrashort pulses on second harmonic generation – it would take 20 years before the effect was experimentally observed on how to determine the losses in waveguides from

ZIERLER: Did you work closely with Amnon?

GARMIRE: No, not at all. Actually, I should say—and I think this is important for the record—he had just come from Bell Labs. What I learned from him about Bell Labs is that they just [laugh] took a person, wrung him out to get what they could. They left him exhausted after his contributions with the competition at Bell Labs. Excuse me but I'll say it anyway, and I don't mind if Yariv hears it. He's now 95 [laugh] or something, and he has enough to be proud of. But when he came to Caltech, he had no new ideas. He was too exhausted. So, he decided to write a book. He wrote his first book, and spent basically full-time in his first couple of years at Caltech writing it, which he was very smart to do. First of all, he got the first really good book out in the laser field, which had a very clear way of thinking. He studied at UC Berkeley under John Whinnery, who was also a very clear-thinker engineer. So, this idea of understanding both the physics and the engineering, and how to explain it well, I think, Yariv was excellent—excellent—on that. The next thing I will say—and, again, this is quite controversial but I believe it's true—is that he was remarkable at identifying what was really important in something that somebody else might've done. He could figure out how it would be used in the future, and so he had the skill to jump on it—and the money and the students to jump into a new area, and make huge headways in areas that were not invented by him.

I happened to be there when he got involved in integrated optics, which was a brand new area with a big future, and it really began him on his march forward. I saw where the idea came from. It came from somebody from industry who happened to be visiting him one day, and explained what they were doing. Amnon, through his connections, was able to envision the importance of this new idea—and he himself became the visionary, I think in that he was equivalent to Townes. I'm not sure that he was as unique a thinker as Townes. He was able to attract incredibly—incredibly—smart, motivated people who worked very hard. I believe that he specified the projects that his students worked on. I was—a postdoc particularly at that time at his lab, which was just across from his office and my office was next to his. I think he was always available. I found being a postdoc was hard because you're not a grad student, so you don't necessarily have separate projects. In many cases, you're working with students, and kind of helping the students. It took me a while to feel like I had some things of my own that I was doing. But everything we did, I thought was very creative. "We" meaning with [Amnon] Yariv, and most of the ideas coming from him; not all of them but most of them. [unlike other places I've been, he did not have "group meetings" and didn't seem to do anything to help students work together. I found it difficult to enter his office without an appointment and I somehow didn't feel qualified to make an appointment. Thus I didn't spend much time with him…As I said, I tended to be a "loner."

ZIERLER: What were the exciting possibilities in nonlinear optics at that point?

GARMIRE: The whole world. In terms of—well, nonlinear optics were only a part of—probably not as exciting—not nearly as exciting as integrated optics. I switched my interests (along with Yariv) to integrated optics, which was the vision of being able to put optical circuits on a chip like integrated electronic circuits. This really started at Bell Labs, but Amnon picked it up right away. With his Bell Labs background, he glommed onto this field immediately. He decided that we were going to really go after this in a major way. He wanted to have an ability to make epitaxial waveguide devices and had a graduate student whose father worked for a company that could produce a pure layer in gallium arsenide that could be turned into a waveguide modulator. From that, Yariv was able to do his first clever research in integrated optics, and the whole project on making modulators with the epitaxial Schotky junctions was an idea that more or less came from him. Others were doing something similar, but Yariv made an important first step. [added: As a post-doc I learned how to make Schotky junctions from another Caltech faculty member, and I was the first person (probably in the world) that could withstand 100 volts without breaking down.] At this point, Yariv decided that he really wanted to be able to grow epitaxial layers that could be turned into integrated optics devices, instead of relying on other people. So, he sent me—and this is what postdocs were good for—he sent me on a round of visits to three industrial laboratories that were doing what was called liquid phase-epitaxy (LPE). They had—the way it worked was to be able to make layers. Epitaxial lasers—layers are like sandwiches, lots of layers right on top of each other, and you want to layer them one at a time. In the early days, there were no ideas how to do that. The process grew single crystal material, with each layer different on a semiconductor substrate (GaAs). The process is called epitaxy.

Nowadays, they have very fancy machines where you can literally put in a substrate, punch the buttons on the machine, wait and out will come your epitaxial material. But at this time there was no epitaxial system using gasses that would do work. All we had were liquids. So, this process began with a slider that held separate melts in a series of wells that contained gallium pellets, aluminum and gallium arsenide crystals. You would make a series of different liquid solutions of material you wanted to deposit. Then start lowering the temperature while moving each well across the substrate one-by-one. As the temperature was lowered, each liquid source above the substrate would deposit its crystalline layer. The next liquid source would add the next layer. Growing the crystal layers was like you'd grow salt crystals from a super-saturated solution. I learned how to do that, and it was a very interesting time. This was in the 1970s, and I got mentored at wearing short skirts. [laugh] I went back East in this marvelous outfit that I'd found that was incredible with a short skirt and a cape. I was really something.

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: I went to these three different laboratories: RCA, Bell Labs, and IBM. No, Lincoln Labs. No, I can't remember.

ZIERLER: Lincoln Labs at MIT?

GARMIRE: Yeah, yeah. But actually when I got to RCA, for example, they actually let me in the laboratory to see the equipment. They'd never allowed anyone in before. But there was something [laugh] about me that looked like I guess I couldn't cause trouble.

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: I'm not sure. What was funny—and I'm going to write a book and tell these stories one of these days. But when I went to RCA, the big boss, I was supposed to call on him, and he was Amnon's friend, so it was easy to go see him. When I arrived, Amnon had asked him to show me the lab, so he introduced me to his two "flunkies" [i.e. junior engineers by the way, they each became famous in the field, and remained good friends]. He had a table in his office, a nice little round table. The two flunkies and I sat there, and he said, "I'm going to go do some business" or something like that. So, he walked out and I'm telling with the flunkies what I'm doing and what our plans are. Pretty soon, I notice the big boss is [laugh] there at the door, listening to my explaining what we're doing at Caltech. Suddenly, he said, "Who are you?" Just like that, "Who are you?" [laugh] Because I knew as much as any of them did but I didn't look like I did. [laugh]

ZIERLER: Right.

GARMIRE: Anyway, they remain—those young men have remained my friends, and we have dinner periodically, and laugh.

ZIERLER: Elsa, what were you learning from these industrial labs? What was happening there?

ZIERLER: What aspects of the information that you had learned from the industrial laboratories, given that Amnon had sent you out, what did you convey back to him? What was so important to report to him?

GARMIRE: I don't think I reported details to him. I just started building it. I got—the recipes were—it was in the open literature, basically, the recipes. Nobody was—I don't think there were any great hidden parts of the technology. A lot of it was eventually superseded by new epitaxial technologies. Liquid phase epitaxy was a very primitive technology. But the rest of our fabrication technology was high quality. When we made the first hologram gratings to etch distributed feedback on these samples, we made gratings separated by 1,100 nm – much finer than anyone else in the world had done. The company that made the polymer materials said, "You can't do that. They won't have that fine a definition." Nobody had ever done it before, but we did it. We did it by doing basically holography with a UV laser. All of this was brand new technology. The thing that made Caltech what it was, and I think still most good places today, is that you got to be first. You got to be right up there, and so anything you do is new and publishable. [A lot of this was due to the high-quality grad students – even if they were all male!]

ZIERLER: In terms of what it means to be first, when you came back from touring these labs, and you started building on your own, what was new for you? What could you do that wasn't being done at the labs?

GARMIRE: At those labs, they had different plans for what they wanted to do with this equipment. We wanted to make—thanks to our Japanese friend—we wanted to make a distributed feedback laser. Distributed feedback lasers had to have distributed gratings on top of them. The technology was known because Kolegnik at Bell Labs had invented it and proven it in a demonstration project with a dye laser. But it needed to be done in semiconductor lasers. Because of my building the LPE system and setting up the holographic gratings, we were the first people in the world to produce a distributed feedback laser (DFB) semiconductor laser—Caltech was. That was an important advance. No other industry had been willing to put the money and the effort at that point into looking at it. It didn't seem that important. It turned out ultimately to be very important when it turned out that optical fibers had lowest loss at longer wavelengths, where DFB lasers were very effective…before that semiconductor lasers operated, rather than at the 800, which was at shorter wavelengths where DFB did not work well. The grating technology for semiconductor lasers was pioneered in Yariv's lab and I'd say was his first big breakthrough. Such grating technology is still used today, and has been since it was first done at Caltech.

There's just a lot of details that have to be improved before a successful device can be built. This is the role of Applied Physics. Let's take semiconductor lasers as an example because I became an expert in those details. Once you begun a new technology, there's a long road to perfection. The first semiconductor lasers (1964) operated only at 77 degrees kelvin. They were in the infrared and you couldn't see them. You couldn't run them continuously (CW). because they would heat up. You could only run them pulsed. When they finally got to run them continuously, they died within two hours. The reasons had to be discovered and fixed. They were still invisible and new techniques had to be invented to make them visible. Now, all of that had to be solved before you worried about reliability and temperature at which it runs, and lasting 1,000 hours, and making them cost-effective, and blah, blah, blah, blah. So, you wonder why it takes 40, 50 years since the laser was invented before it could be used in a myriad of applications.

ZIERLER: Elsa, when you started building, and looking at just what a fundamental advance this was, what aspects of the research were a breakthrough in theory, and which were breakthrough in terms of instrumentation?

GARMIRE: Well, it's a little hard to separate those things; exploring the reasons for the device's behavior leads to new ideas on how to extend its limits. Experiments are a necessity and theoretical understanding is an integral part of that. I'd like to think we did both. As an example, one of the issues with DFB lasers that people hadn't really thought about, or didn't really realize would be a problem, was that with a DFB grating on top providing reflections, these would interfere with end-mirrors on the laser too. These two reflections interfere, and you get the laser operating at two modes instead of one. So, you've got to figure out a way to solve that. The invention turned out to be inserting a region with a special phase-shift halfway along the grating. A small thing, but it made all the difference. To come up with the solutions required understand carefully how the grating interfered with the other mirrors. Now, was that a theory or was that an experiment? In this field of applied physics, it all happens together. Very rarely does someone sit quietly at a table, and get a new idea that makes a difference.

Let me get back to personal issues. I got to the point where I was tired of all the ideas coming from other people, and I wanted to know can I, Elsa, be creative. I just really felt like I wasn't. I was doing all of this very applied work. Yeah, I made the thing work, and we'd made the materials. Fine, but was I a super technician or was I really a scientist? I still remember sitting in the laboratory at Caltech when I just suddenly got an idea. "Why don't I make a waveguide in GaAs by ion implantation?" That was a new way to get the refractive index step you wanted. It just made me feel so good. I was quite sure that would work, and we got—again, through Amnon's friends at Hughes Research Labs—we got them to help us and make these devices. Now, we could write a series of important papers, making new device concepts with this new technology. I should point out that this was just before Amnon said, "Well, Elsa, I think you've outstayed your welcome." [laugh] He said, "Go on to new things." [laugh] I had just come up with my new idea about ion implantation and wasn't quite ready to go. It was like a week before when I had the new idea [laugh] so there was some certain pressure there. Anyway, so, I went to Amnon and said, "Well, yeah, but I've really got this idea I want to do." He said, "Well, write a proposal to the NSF." So, I wrote a proposal, but because it was Caltech, they didn't put my name on it anywhere. So it was "Yariv"'s proposal, and it was fully funded, and that was how we got into doing the work with ion implantation.

ZIERLER: What was the idea, Elsa? How did it come about?

GARMIRE: I had read about ion implantation waveguides in glass, and I thought, well, that ought to work in semiconductors as well. I knew that because I actually had had—I don't want to get the timing mixed up. [pause] Oh, because I knew that ion implantation was working to stop free carriers from leaking outside —keeping them inside a semiconductor laser. So, it was through the theory of lasers that I applied it to integrated optics. Yeah, that would be the way.

GARMIRE: That I could do something. This is the problem, see. A truly, truly brilliant scientist or someone who fully [pause] [laugh], I want to say, bites the apple will devote their life to making something happen. I was just not that kind of person. I was really interested in physics, the physics of finding out how things work, of understanding things, and applying it. I would use that process in the whole semiconductor thing. That I could get money to fund it was encouraging and gave me self-confidence. It was all very interesting! There were definitely areas that did NOT interest me (X-ray crystallography?). But all of my work with Yariv was extremely interesting. So, I have been willing to move my interests a lot, and have continued to move them after I became a faculty member at USC. Certainly, in the case of Yariv, he's been much more pointed in the directions he's gone because he had set up the required technology. The next big technology was to lower the threshold of semiconductor lasers, which involved quantum wells, along with the whole concept of what they are good for how do you make them—the technology of making them, and then they morphed into became quantum dots. All of these required a lot more theory and a lot more experiment. And considerably more expensive technology of fabrication. It was a very integrated field. Success requires collaboration of different groups with different skills. At the same time, we are understanding the basics so well that, as time has gone on until now, you have situations where you can buy computer programs that model these devices, you get an idea, you put it in the computer program, and then you optimize or improve it, you make it or you believe what the computer tells you (or both) and you publish.

ZIERLER: Elsa, what were you doing at the intersection of lasers and art while you were at Caltech?

GARMIRE: What happened here was that, frankly, I was getting a little bored with what I was doing. Things were not—I never did work full-time. I haven't really [laugh] mentioned that. But I was actually working from 10 AM to 4 PM, were my hours. Maybe this is part of what I was sort of getting at earlier. Before my kids were old enough to be in school, I would go out in the backyard with my kids after my husband left, and do gardening. Southern California has beautiful weather year-round, and I'd sit with them or play with them on the swing. Then I'd go to work at 10, and I had a housekeeper that would come. Then I'd come home at 4, and she would've had a meal prepared that all I had to do was heat. I'd take out a beer and go out in the backyard with my kids [laugh], and play the rest of the afternoon. [laugh] So, I really did try to keep a balanced life pretty well. I certainly was not good at studying at home or working at home. This is also partly a result of being a woman raised in the '50s, that I just could not connect these two parts of my life, my home and work. When I went to work, I didn't even think of home, and when I was home, I didn't think of my work. Part of the reality then is that I didn't go home for lunch because when I worked, I went into work continually, and did not interrupt it by going back home again. My mind didn't instantly shift from one activity to the other, and it took a lot of years to get comfortable with the two sides of my life. In fact, it wasn't until my children [laugh] were grown, and I didn't need to think about them much. Finally I didn't have this dichotomy in my head.

ZIERLER: Elsa, did you have artistic sensibilities, and you saw laser as an outlet for them?

GARMIRE: No. No, what happened—well, yes and no. What happened is that there was an organization called Experiments in Art and Technology that developed in New York City under the auspices of Billy Klüver, who had been a laser scientist at Bell Labs, and a friend of Amnon's. He had gotten involved—he was originally from Sweden, I think. He got involved in the New York art scene and helped some of the famous artists with technology that fascinated them. He helped them out with the technology part of it—a whole lot of well-known artists. So, he got interested in having an organization that would bring together scientists and art to work together, and so, that's how he started this non-profit called Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT).

He convinced—through his friends at Bell Labs—he convinced John Pierce, one of the bosses at Bell Labs—that he should be funding Bell Labs scientists and engineers to work with artists that were friends of his and fascinated by technology, and they would do together. The concept was performance art, and the performance they developed was Nine Evenings. They performed for nine evenings at the Brooklyn Armory, a great big space. They did nine evenings of technology, with help from Bell Labs, and the artists did dancing and various activities. Very, very famous avant art back then. Anyway, so, the EAT organization started, and Billy thought there should be a West Coast branch. He wanted Amnon to do it, and Amnon said he wasn't interested. But he said I might be. So, Billy talked to me, and because I was getting a little bored with what I was doing, I decided to get interested in this. What happened is that Billy managed to get this group of artists to agree to build the pavilion for Pepsi Cola company in Japan. They built the pavilion for Expo '70 in Japan, and there were ultimately about 15 artists and engineers/scientists working together to build this building. My job was actually in dome optics; that is, creating a 90 foot diameter reflecting dome above people's heads so they could see their own real images . They also had a laser light show, but I wasn't involved. Billy was an inspirational man. It turned out that he was married to one of my classmates from my Radcliffe dormitory [laugh], which was small world, which she's still a good friend of mine (Billy passed away). So, I got involved in EAT. The result was that I got to go to Japan a couple of times, first to help the Japanese design and build what we needed and then later to actually install the technology. I was there for their opening ceremonies and all. It was—I could go on for hours with that. That's another cool thing. But what came out of that was my being—starting to want to really do some art. I liked challenges. By challenge, what kind of art can I do? I really didn't like the laser light show that they set up there. They just took a couple of lasers, and just reflected them around each other. There was a figure that engineers got on oscilloscope screens, if you're a technical person, it's called a Lissajous figure, it's basically a lot of circles or ovals, or possibly figure eights. It's like that patterns ice skaters make on the ice. I find it really incredibly boring after three seconds. So, I wanted to just come up with a light show that was more interesting. That's how I got started. I've got a picture. I don't know if it's going to show. Oh, yeah. I called them "laser images."

ZIERLER: Oh, yeah, yeah.

GARMIRE: Yeah, that's the ultimate of what I was doing. I took, in this case, three different lasers, and mixed them together, and used some refractive materials to spread them around. The first thing I did was to make a series of color photographs. It turns out there was a woman just opening a new photographic art gallery on Hollywood and Vine, more or less right down in Hollywood. I [laugh] went to visit her, showed her my pictures, and said, "You got to have these in your opening show." She had already planned there'd be a bunch of kittens and things. [laugh] So, I talked her into it, and she mounted my wild laser images. I'd also made a homemade light show that you could buy using a little helium neon laser and my little diffraction plate. So, I had it there to demonstrate. Somehow or other, I guess, she probably called the news agencies, and the photographers from the local news came down and took pictures of it. I never did sell anything, but that's all right. So, I got publicity for my little light show.

It just so happens two graduate students at UCLA were watching the TV [laugh], and they saw this. They were both in the process of looking for a project to do for the MFAs in the film industry for their master's degrees. They called me up and said they wanted to come and see my laser light show. So, they came down to the lab. By the way, this is all at Caltech and with Caltech's lasers and Amnon. I was doing it. He had a big, beautiful powerful argon laser, and he had no plans to use it. So, it was just sitting there, and I could use it all I wanted after hours and weekends. So, the [laugh] police —the students would come down after hours. Every time they got stopped by the police, you had a whole car full of photographic gear. But they had their permission slips from UCLA, just saying that it was theirs. Anyway, so, they were nice, and made their films. One of them, Ivan Dryer, who was working at Griffith Observatory, thought how great it would be to have laser light shows in there, and so we took [laugh] Amnon's laser down to the Griffith Park. I should tell you that this laser needed hose water and a 250-volt power supply. We had to carry a big engine that would make the electricity. It was something. Anyway, we showed the laser and, of course, the Planetarium people were just so impressed, they said yes. So, the light show got started, and we called—it became called Laserium. I was the president of the original Laserium organization called—Laser Images Incorporated, with papers provided by my lawyer friend. But it turned out that of the three, Ivan Dryer was the only one who really wanted to do it. Anyway, I was on my way to a year off. My husband had a sabbatical from Caltech, and we were going to go around the world. I just wanted to prove that Magellan was correct. So, I just gave the Laserium to my Ivan, and he ran it for 30 years. He died about 10 years ago. It was seen by millions of people around the world, and it was probably [laugh] the more famous thing I've ever done.

ZIERLER: Elsa, what aspects of the laser light show were really a scientific demonstration, and what aspects were simply this is a new form of art that can only be done with lasers?

GARMIRE: It was a new form of art, that was it, 100%, yes. It was definitely something that went with "weed" and rock music. It was the 1970's. I was hoping that it would be with classical music—that's probably the reason I left. It really is most beautiful with classical music.

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: But these guys wanted to go into the—this was the 1970s.

ZIERLER: Yeah. [laugh]

GARMIRE: It just fit perfectly there. I have now been discovered—it's the 50-year anniversary of so many of these things, and the art historians start getting interested. So, I've been contacted by the Smithsonian folks, and they have asked for the remains of my art work at that time.

ZIERLER: Elsa, were there any safety considerations?

GARMIRE: [laugh] Yes. One of the stories I wanted to tell you, among other things, was that there's the one with whom I wouldn't have had a fantastic career. [laugh] I didn't tell you that somewhere—well, we haven't gotten to the time at which I ended up unmarried. That was after going around the world. In fact, that was right after then. I'm sorry, you asked a question.

ZIERLER: About safety considerations with the laser light shows.

GARMIRE: Oh, yeah. I got a lot of fame and fortune—no, no fortune, but a lot of fame for this Laserium show. I will give Caltech credit. I wrote down a list of things I wanted to give Caltech credit for. I have to find my list. But one of them is that they did give me a lot of publicity at various times. They asked me to give a Beckman lecture, which I gather are quite prestigious. [laugh] I don't know if they still are, but they were very prestigious. I don't know that they'd had any woman give one before. In any event, I did a laser light show out over the audience. I was very well aware of the safety issues so I had made a double light shield, a double safety thing, so if any one fell down, there'd be another one there. I was certainly aware safety, yes, absolutely. Of course, in our lab, we were very careful. But there's a lot of what we did that wouldn't be legal [laugh] today. But these lasers had the advantage of all being visible. If they're visible, you can see the light, and you're not going to want to do something dangerous. You can buy lasers off the shelf now. In principle, you're not supposed to bring them into the United States, but I just bought one. They will blind you in two seconds. So, if they're [laugh] relying on people not to do something stupid—

ZIERLER: How do you prevent that at a laser light show where people are looking at the lasers?

GARMIRE: No, they're not looking at the lasers. They're looking at light from lasers that are off somewhere else. You don't shine light at people. It would be too bright – like looking directly at the sun. You just can't do that. There are very low-level lasers that you could get down at a level that you could probably—if it goes by fast, then it's pretty safe. But even the small lasers, the typical small lasers are about the brightness of the sun. So, if that light were focused on your eye, it would be like you were staring at the sun. [laugh] You close your eyes is what you do, so they're not likely to blind you unless they're more powerful. But, yes, you've got to be careful.

ZIERLER: Elsa, you mentioned that you had notes for where you want to give Caltech credit.

GARMIRE: Yeah. There are several things, one of which is exactly this art stuff. I don't know whether you, in your history are doing with Caltech, you have heard about the artwork that was going on in 1970 or thereabouts.

ZIERLER: No.

GARMIRE: They had never had [laugh] a lot of liberal arts. But there was somebody in humanities—unfortunately, I can't think of his name right now—but who was really interested in getting the Caltech students to be involved in art in some way or another, and separate from machine shop equipment they might've made. What he did—he hired a man to come and be a resident artist. Actually, I had heard about this at the time, but never formally met him. That man turned out to be a total failure in what Caltech wanted. He came there, and he wanted to do his own art, and his own art was apparently not very good. He did not really want to help the students. I've heard this now from two totally different places over [laugh]—one was a year ago, and one was 20 years ago, and I felt that way 40 years ago. [laugh] [Added info: I had used students to help put together an unannounced performance art piece the involved bringing the argon laser, set up a reflecting mirror to beam it up along the outside to the top of the library. Another student took another mirror to the top of the building and set to reflected the beam back down. We took a third mirror to beam it back up. There were three beams going back and forth and then out to the heavens. I was surprised as to how incredibly beautiful it was. I called this artist to come and see it. He really put it down as a gimmick and not "art." I was disappointed and never did it again. No photographs or evidence of this.] So, I just ignored him, and did what I wanted to do. But this humanities professor in English, I think—who I'm sure with easy digging would find who it was—he decided he wanted to put together an art show that was held in the gracious indoor-outdoor place –Dabney I think it was. There was a large, gracious patio outside 50 years ago -- where there was a statue of a bull and famous Chinese philosopher – I think it was Lao Tzu. That statue still has to be somewhere, it was valuable I think. I don't know if it's around ivy-covered bulls anymore like it used to be. But it was a beautiful, beautiful little part of Caltech. They asked us to create various art exhibits in there. So, I did an art demonstration in there. That is where I did put up a (safe) laser wall that people could walk through—an array of horizontal of laser beams, created by a series of mirrors, through which people could walk through. But I was there to make sure it was all very safe.

Also, by the way, it is important and is—there's a fair amount of publicity about an event we put on, collaborating with JPL. I was featured in the local paper. We—"we" being this art and technology group—put on a "moon-landing celebration" at Caltech, and it was held outside of Steele Hall where there was a big open area parking area. It was organized with one of my friends, who was named Ruth Baker. Her name has changed and, unfortunately, I've lost track of what her new name is. She got married, I guess. But she was very much into organizing art, and so she took care of all the organization of it. I believe she was known by the Getty museum, who have records of it. We had about 10 or 12 exhibits. JPL brought out one of its machines that would go running along, would move [the Rover]. There were a number of well-known Californian artists, one of whom wore a filled helium balloon with enough that he had he gravity of being on the moon, and he went jumping around like the astronauts did. Some people did various art or light show events. We had our laser wall outside there. I have a list somewhere of all the events that took place. I think it could have been one of those events that could've gone down in history as being important at Caltech. But part of this art and technology movement was a fight against the idea of "permanent" art, and so the slogan of E.A.T. was "Process not Product." So, I really got into the process part. Frankly, it was entertainment, and so I would get into the state of artistic experience, immersing myself totally. Really, I got very good at it, and I do love experiencing that kind of art where I can just go and do it and really experience it. But I had no interest in recording it. I guess I just want to be a professional artist.

Now, you were asking me about my interest in art. When I was at Radcliffe, I took—sorry, Harvard—I took a full load of physics and science courses. But I spent every other minute, when I wasn't in a formal course, sitting in on other courses because the classes were eight blocks from where we lived. If I went down to the classes, I wasn't going to run home to go back and do anything. So, I just started automatically finding a class to sit in on. I sat in on all the art courses, and I would go and eat my lunch, and watch the art from "clay to Klee." Have yo u heard that, the original clay and then Paul Klee [laugh], modernized? So, I knew all about the history of art.

A friend of mine, who was an MFA, and I decided we wanted to teach an art course at Caltech. So, we got permission to, and then I went to the four deans. At that time, there were four deans. I went to each dean, and each dean was willing to give $500. So, we were able to get$2,000. This is in 40-year-old dollars – enough to put on a course with slides, etc. We gave the first art course ever taught at Caltech. It was called "Art and Technology." I happened to have a catalog from an important Metropolitan art show called The Machine Show that was in New York many years earlier. It was a very good preview of the kind of art that led to the art and technology movement, and so that's the basis of the ideas discussed in this class, aiming to get kids to see the relationship between technology and art, and how they can play off each other. At that time I was also very, very interested in the type of questions one asks. Artists ask very different questions compared to what scientists ask, and their motivations are different. Then if you try working out a collaboration between the two, you find out the differences are that artists have a lot of time, and scientists have a lot of money. [laugh] It tends to be that way. Scientists don't want to give you any time, and artists don't have any money to give you. So, working together takes some real commitment on both sides. But when it does, it could be very effective.

ZIERLER: Elsa, how was the class received at Caltech?

GARMIRE: Just fine. We only had 10 kids. There wasn't a mass of people signing up for it. I found my notes recently, and I don't have any serious memories about it. I can read my notes, and recall preparing the notes, but I don't remember much [laugh] of the course. I can't say I'm the world's best teacher, so I probably didn't inspire them as much as I would have liked to.

ZIERLER: Elsa, I'm sure in retrospect you're happy that you did not leave Caltech when Amnon initially suggested it was time to move on.

GARMIRE: [laugh] Yeah, I probably would've stayed home because I should say that 1968 was when I had my second child. I had my first child essentially the day my thesis was due, and I had my second child on a Saturday morning [laugh], and I went back to work on Monday morning [laugh], just because I could do it. [laugh] I had a good housekeeper back then, the kind you can't get anymore, unfortunately.

ZIERLER: Elsa, were there any other women around campus at the similar stage in life as you that you could bond with, that you could share stories, or were you basically all on your own in that regard?

GARMIRE: Well, no, that's another point I was about to bring up. I was on my own. Caltech was not ready to be doing anything. But I was very much interested in and got involved in the Women's Movement [specifically National Organization of Women, NOW], mostly through the art connections. I had a good friend (Barbara Smith) who was a performance artist that I knew, and she was also interested in feminism. I got involved in starting a "consciousness-raising group" [a formal activity supported by NOW]. That was an important activity in the early days of the women's movement. That group was mostly women post-docs at Caltech in technical fields, and we talked once a week for two years about issues. One of the things with the women's movement, its motto was "the personal is political." So, thoughts that you feel personally are actually caused by the politics of the culture around you. A lesson I learned very early on. It was very important to me because I needed to learn this. To the women's movement, many women one of two, or I guess, three reactions I can think of. One is they're so interested in their work, they just don't pay any attention to anything else. Secondly, there's the people who start to understand that if you want to survive and also keep a little bit of yourself, you have to understand the perspective of the other side so that you can compromise. That's me. Then the third approach is those women who can feel totally weighed down under the paternalism, and give up. These often follow "#metoo" episodes.

ZIERLER: There were no women faculty at that point at Caltech.

GARMIRE: No. In fact, while I was there was the first woman, Jenijoy La Belle, who came in as a faculty member. Interestingly enough, talking about somebody willing to do it her own way, she had short skirts and lots of makeup. [laugh] It was not my way – except for the short skirts! [laugh] But she got tenure, I guess, fairly right away. I don't think there were any problems with it. Then the second woman, at least as far as I know, was a woman mathematician who'd been there essentially as a professor for years and years but wasn't allowed the formal position. That's the gossip that I know, and I don't know of anybody else that was there before I left. And I never met either of these women.

ZIERLER: Elsa, when did you decide on your own timeline—not on Amnon's—that it was time to move on to your next adventure?

GARMIRE: Oh, well, that was—he decided that. In—let's see. Let me—yeah, all right. Let me finish. I'll come back to that. But let me finish this with respect to Caltech. One of my memories is they did bring in Professor Wu, a famous woman experimental particle physicist who should've won the Nobel Prize but didn't. They had her in to meet with the women postdocs at Caltech. So, there were others at this point. I don't remember the date of this. But I remember meeting—there were probably six or eight women. I remember Madam Wu saying, "Oh, it's easy to be a woman. No problem at all. I had the nana, who was going to raise my children, picked out before I even had them." I raised hand, and said, "No [laugh], in this country, we have the idea that we should raise our own children." [laugh] [added: I didn't find her any help at all. I didn't want live-in help. I wanted to "do it all." But I had no role models.]

ZIERLER: Yeah.

GARMIRE: When I talk about kinds of women, she was one kind. I was the kind stuck in the middle that I was trying to be a human being in the American way. This idea of going home after my PhD and not working was my attempt to find the middle ground, which I failed totally on. The rest of the story about how it failed was that my husband had a sabbatical, so we went around the world. It was my dream. His field was astrophysics, and he was launching rockets from Australia in a secret missile base. So, I with the two children, spent a month in Australia just touring around while he did launched his rocket. Then we went the rest if the way around the world to England, where he was a visiting professor at King's College, I guess. I did have a position at telephone and telegraph, the British Telephone and Telegraph, doing an integrated optics experiment, the first one done in Britain. While there, I got a letter from Yariv saying, "Don't come back to my lab." I will give Caltech credit --- I'm in England, and I know I'm not going back there. I wrote letters again to various people at Caltech, and the dean said that he would support me for a year to come back and write proposals and develop a program on my own. So … Caltech tried to do something for me, which I appreciate, but I knew I didn't want that. I wanted to get rid of Caltech in my life. In any event, when I got home… when we got home, my husband said, "I'm not moving in with you. While we were gone, I carried on a relationship with another professor's wife. She and I are going to run off together." So, that ended my relationship with Caltech; I had no interest [laugh] in staying at Caltech.

ZIERLER: Yeah.

GARMIRE: What happened next is another whole story. Let me just make sure I've talked about everything I wanted to say. [pause] Caltech got me on a TV show to talk about—what was I going to talk about? I don't even know. I can't even remember when that was now. I literally can't remember, but I do know that when we—the show was being taped. It was one of these talk shows where it was just me and the interviewer, and it was going to be shown on some afternoon tape. I met him ahead of time while they were making my makeup on, and he seemed like a nice guy. So, I was all ready for it, and I was sitting, ready to go. He came out on camera, gathered himself up to full height, and said, "Oh, Dr. Garmire, tell me what does it feel to be a woman in a man's world? [laugh] I was furious.

ZIERLER: Yeah.

ZIERLER: Elsa, given that you did such important work at Caltech, being a woman with all the difficulties, where does Caltech get credit for providing you with an intellectual atmosphere, even as a woman with those difficulties, that allowed you to do the things that you did?

GARMIRE: Thank you, that was somebody else that I don't have written on here and should, because I was nominated to be a member of the National Academy of Engineering by the former president of Caltech, the man who had been president when I was at Caltech.

ZIERLER: This was Lee DuBridge?

GARMIRE: No, next one, I think.

ZIERLER: Everhart?

GARMIRE: Yes.

ZIERLER: Tom Everhart, right.

GARMIRE: Yes, yes. He admitted to me that he was the one that did nominate me. I was just really very touched by it because he was following what I was doing.

ZIERLER: Yeah, yeah.

GARMIRE: Is that enough credit? [laugh]

ZIERLER: You tell me. [laugh]

GARMIRE: Well, I do think that being the 22nd woman in the National Academy out of 3,000 men—actually, by then, there were all the dead ones. But, anyway, yes, I thought it was pretty good.

ZIERLER: Yeah, yeah.

GARMIRE: Actually, the third woman professor in electrical engineering in the National Academy, so it was not easy to get there.

ZIERLER: Elsa, it sounds like all in all, despite the difficulties, your time at Caltech was very much worth it. It was good on balance.

[laugh] The other thing that really, really pissed me off—but this is the way it was. So, you asked me what I think of having been there. I went back to Amnon's 80th birthday party, which was about 15 years ago now, I guess, something like that, and gave a talk on what happened when I was there. Positive all the way through, I mean, you know, we were getting along fine. We went to the dinner, and there was a fancy dinner, and everybody was there. He got up at the end, and he said after he made his thank-yous, "I want to thank all the men I have worked with over the years. It's been a wonderful career." [pause] I was there for nine of those around forty years. But he never had a female student, apparently. His daughter raised her hand and said, "What about Elsa?" I was tickled. It didn't have to be the one to complain. But I'm sure Amnon has no memory of all the things I did in his lab.

ZIERLER: Good for her.

GARMIRE: [laugh]

ZIERLER: Maybe it was an honest oversight from Amnon, although maybe that also says something.

GARMIRE: No, I don't think he ever respected what I did. [pause] Now, that brings up something else, actually, that I want to talk about. This is getting into things that are not usually in the record. But I think, in light of the Me Too Movement, there's a lot of discussion and thought about relationships between men and women working together. I just want to make a general comment that relates to me, and I'm not going to say who, of course. But I've been asked if I ever had any #MeToo moments. Now, the answer's "no" in the traditional sense because, as you can see, now I'm a pretty strong-minded person, and now I wouldn't let anything get to a point like that. But then I was feeling tremendously powerless at Caltech; completely powerless. Couldn't get my name on a proposal. Everything I did had to be thanks to some man who was allowing it to happen, and there was no alternative. There were no women, except under positions where they were working for men.

So, there's another way of reacting within this #MeToo style, which is to decide that I'm going to be the aggressor, and if I can convince some nice guy who's married, happily married, and would never do it, to spend a little time with me, against his own morality, that I would feel powerful. I would really feel powerful. I felt the need to do that all the way until I, myself, [laugh] felt powerful enough and saw that I didn't need to do it. But the thing that makes a young woman wear a very short skirt [laugh] usually means she's not feeling very powerful.

ZIERLER: Yeah.

GARMIRE: I just think it's important to have that message said and recorded in some way for somebody who would be interested in thinking about it from the point of view of what do you as a woman if you had no power? You can let the other guy have the power or you can grab it yourself, and do whatever you do with it.

ZIERLER: Elsa, is this more a general comment about the times, the late '60s and early '70s, or do you think—without being able, of course, to compare it specifically—that this is a unique story to Caltech?

GARMIRE: No, it's not in any way unique to Caltech, but it certainly was there. I never felt more powerful than when somebody came wandering in at my door in a way that was inappropriate. I really felt powerful. I might not be able to win scientifically [laugh] at that time. I think I tell that because I want people to understand the extent of the powerlessness. I look at somebody like Frances, the Nobel Prize winner.

ZIERLER: Arnold.

GARMIRE: Arnold. She's just able to go and do absolutely anything she wants. Maybe she's the kind of person that would've felt powerful no matter what. But I guess that the system probably supports her completely, and probably has from day one. I grew up in a time when there were no supports.

ZIERLER: Elsa, last question, to put a completeness to your time at Caltech, with these difficulties and the way that you responded to them, in light of what you went on, all of your accomplishments in your career, in what ways was the experience with the difficulties an asset, that it did strengthen you, that it did give you a sense of how to wield power? In what ways on the whole, in light of all that you did, was Caltech beneficial, but not for the normal reasons that a postdoc might be beneficial?

GARMIRE: You're asking exactly the right questions, and it's exactly correct because there's no doubt that I went from Caltech to dog-eat-dog USC [laugh], which was—I could go on at USC [laugh] at great length. But now I was an equal—almost equal. Again, I was the only woman in the department for 20 years, and the first in all of engineering, when I was hired out of 120 professors in the entire engineering school. By the time I left, there were only four, 20 years later (and none in my department except me). But, yeah, I felt plenty powerful – tenure does that! Also winning an all-USC prize for the best researcher in engineering. I'd say Caltech provided the chance to find my backbone and USC provided the opportunity to slug it out with others in an "almost-even" ring. I should also say mention, and related to so many other things I was talking about, at the time in the '70s, there was a huge sweep of divorces through the Physics Department. I don't know if you know that as a historian. [pause] I knew at least four faculty families in the physics department that got divorced. My husband's mentor got divorced, my husband left with the wife of another physics faculty professor, a friend of mine from Radcliffe (with whom I started the Caltech Child Development Center) had her Caltech professor husband leave with a post-doc. etc. This was this thing everybody did, specifically at Caltech in the 1970's. My guess is that going Co-ed must have changed things for Caltech.

ZIERLER: Yeah.

GARMIRE: So, it was a very, very mixed-up time at Caltech. People were not paying a lot of attention to [laugh] who rolled around, and I guess they have now. [laugh]

ZIERLER: Well, you got to USC with some armor.

GARMIRE: So, I got to USC with some armor. Well, I have a lot of important—what I do know one person said that the reason I got tenure at USC without ever having assistant or associate professor—I went right in as a full professor. They looked at my publication record from Townes and from Yariv, and they said, "Well, she managed to do well with two very good people. We're sure that she must've had something to say." [laugh]

ZIERLER: [laugh]

GARMIRE: So, it wasn't a fluke. It happened twice.

ZIERLER: That's right.

GARMIRE: [laugh] I am a person that really does believe, and I've been telling everybody, that if you have a choice of where to work, you always work where the people are the best you can work with. My real thanks to them is that I ended up at USC. There was a time when we were voted the sixth-best electrical engineering department in the country. I was very proud of that. [laugh] We lost it soon after, but we were highly respected, and we were doing some well-respected work there. I then got tired of the rat-race, and I really wanted to try something different. I met a woman faculty member Dartmouth's Thayer School Engineering and she invited me to apply for a position as dean. I had never been in management, and I wasn't sure I'd be a very good manager but I couldn't resist the challenge. They didn't think they needed a manager. They wanted somebody who was famous, and they thought management wasn't a problem. In fact, it was their manager that was their problem. [laugh] I tried for two years, got a "no confidence" vote from the faculty, and retreated to being a regular faculty member. After me, two other mediocre deans had no real impact, after which we had an excellent dean who finally got it well organized. He has just accepted a position as President of Lehigh University. For me personally, the only advantage Dartmouth had was that it was financially well-off. Dartmouth has the same endowment as USC but a tenth the student!

ZIERLER: Yeah.

GARMIRE: [laugh] It was just very nice not to have to worry about money.

ZIERLER: Finally. [laugh]

GARMIRE: Right, right. [laugh]

ZIERLER: Well, Elsa, I'd like to thank you so much. I'm so happy that we connected, and you were able to share your quite unique and important perspective from your time at Caltech. So, thank you so much.

[END]

Ed. note: Garmire added the following information subsequent to the interview:

In the year 1969 Caltech was in desperate need of a teacher in junior-level applied math for a single term. The faculty member responsible for organizing the teaching load called me and asked if I would be willing to teach a section. I couldn't resist the challenge. In this oral history, I wanted to tell my experience of teaching a section of math at Caltech at a time when there were no women students or faculty. Math was not my strongest suit and I was in awe of Caltech men, and completely unprepared. After I said yes, I worried because I had a one-year-old baby. If the sitter was sick and couldn't come, I didn't know what I'd do. I couldn't ask my husband to stay home. After all he was a PROFESSOR. i.e. a GOD. Fortunately that never happened.

I found myself over my head in the class. Fortunately there was an excellent student who always sat in the front row, shoeless, and knew all the answers. (Also, I remember him as very handsome!) I learned to turn to him and ask him to answer questions that the students asked. It must have worked well. I never had any complaints. I never asked how I did – I was afraid to know the bad news. I didn't teach again for many years. And I didn't get over my fear of teaching until I was about 60 yr old!

Here is addendum on more details of my time with Yariv; I couldn't resist after I thought about it.

Yariv came to Caltech in 1964 or 1965.

I arrived in 1966 from MIT where I had worked with Townes. In 1965 Yariv had published a theoretical paper "Quantum theory for parametric interactions of light and hypersound." [Y1] In 1964 at MIT, we had demonstrated experimentally this interaction and explained it classically (which was Townes' favored approach). [M2] Yariv's paper explored it quantum mechanically and got the same answer, so we had something to talk about when I came.

Yariv was theoretically studying parametric interactions between optical modes [Y2]. This clarified his thinking. He had great skill in providing high-level explanations of complex interactions that were easier to understand – particularly coupled mode theory. Had a lot of impact on the field. I mention this because when I arrived, Yariv was spending considerable time writing "Optical Electronics." (I got a mention in the Preface for helping edit his first book.) It was exceedingly influential in the field of what is now called photonics. He followed with a series of other books, all clearly written. The second was "Quantum Electronics," incorporating just enough quantum mechanics and classical electrical engineering.

Just before I arrived, Yariv and Mead had worked together to demonstrate GaAs as an infrared electro-optic modulator of infrared light at 10 μm wavelength. [Y3] After I arrived, he suggested that his first student, Jack Comly, work with me to measure the absorption in such modulators, which we did in 1967. [C2]

Yariv suggested I work on the dynamic theory of laser mode-locking with saturable absorbers. We published in 1967 [C1] -- the first theory analyzing how saturable absorber shorten the pulse length, due to state-filling. Simple concepts and totally analytical. Had early impact, but eventually replaced by computer analysis of more accurate models.

When I arrived, Yariv was sharing one lab bench with Carver Mead. I assisted Desmond Armstrong, his lab manager, to set up a full-scale laboratory. (By the way, I had done that at MIT for Townes, who also had no laboratory when I arrived.)

From the beginning, I worked 30 hr a week; I arrived with a year-old child. Worked from 10 AM to 4 PM. Kept it up even after having a second child.

When I arrived, Yariv asked me to identified and purchase a Nd:glass laser that could be mode-locked. (It operated much like the ruby laser I had at MIT – except the light was infrared) In 1967 student Jack Comly and I began to work on mode-locking experiments, searching for better mechanisms than traditional saturable absorption. We tried using nonlinear optics via anisotropic molecular liquids. Our unpromising experimental results were published in 1968. [C5]

Meanwhile Comly worked with me on my desire to understand the impact of mode-locked pulses on second harmonic generation; we predicted that efficiency would be limited by wavelength dispersion within the nonlinear crystal. Results were submitted (without Yariv) in October, 1967 and published soon thereafter. [C4] Jack Comly went on to become a successful numerical modeling researcher at Lawrence Livermore Labs.

This was a few months before my second child was born, March 1968. There was no policy for post-docs and I took no time off -- I continued to work until noon on Friday. She came on Saturday morning, we came home Sunday night, and I went back to work Monday afternoon! Was I trying to make a point?

It is worth noting here that Pasadena was an unusual place at that time for a working woman because it had a vibrant black community but at that time had limited employment opportunities for women. This made it possible to find an excellent full-time housekeeper/child-minder. I was very lucky with who I hired and could be creative in physics without childcare worries.

FYI, four years later, times had already changed and good help was hard to find! I collaborated with other Caltech women to initiate the Caltech child center (with no help from Caltech) – we even had to pay Caltech rent for the house that we converted! My daughter attended for two years. It is still running, but now totally supported by Caltech.

I went back to work without a break. Under Yariv, Jack Comly and I investigated mode-locking when saturable absorber is replaced with a Kerr nonlinearity (that has no loss), published 1969. [C3]

Meanwhile, Yariv had numerous other students carrying out a variety of activities. One of the most productive was Lee Casperson, who came in 1968 and made a series of interesting studies on laser propagation with high gain lasers, both theoretically and experimentally. He continued to be a leader in this field. Has been professor at Portland State University, Oregon for many years.

Yariv had other students who didn't have much impact. He was actively writing his books and didn't seem to have a long-term direction. Everything changed, however, in 1969.

INTEGRATED OPTICS

In 1969, we had a visitor from an aerospace company who came to Caltech to describe a GaAs waveguide he built for the infrared electro-optic modulators Yariv and Mead had published in 1966. Perhaps this inspired Yariv to focus on "integrated optics," which was already becoming popular with Yariv's old friends at Bell Laboratories. The idea was to use one substrate and integrate laser, modulators, couplers and detectors into an optical circuit all on one chip. This was planned to compete with electronic integrated circuits, particularly at large bandwidths or high speed. This was the beginning of "integrated optics" (IO) as a new technical field in 1970. I actively participated in this effort, both experimentally and theoretically.

Our first effort was demonstration of optical waveguiding and its control, in a GaAs waveguide modulator. The student was David Hall (whose father provided the sample), results published in 1970. [C6] The needed equipment had to be developed because it required an infrared laser, which we could not see. Thus began Caltech's integrated optics effort.

Yariv asked me to take responsibility for setting up from scratch a liquid phase epitaxial (LPE) growth system in the laboratory so that we could make our own GaAs IO devices. This was a major new effort for me, and new for him too. He sent me on a "grand tour" to the three major players in the field: Bell Laboratories, RCA labs and Lincoln Labs. With Yariv's connections, each place welcomed me – a bit surprised to see a woman – particularly because I knew so much – but willing to help us. This was the first such LPE system in any university. These friends provided me with all the information I needed to set up the LPE apparatus, begin growing material for IO, analyze the samples and carry out the optical experiments.

By 1973, I successfully grew a single graded-index ternary layer of AlGaAs as an optical waveguide, suggesting a new LPE method for grading the refractive index. [C10] Also, I successfully grew 3 μm thick GaAs waveguides on a AlGaAs confining layers, within our LPE system. We fabricated this material into the first distributed feedback semiconductor laser ever reported (albeit optically pumped). [C9] Work continued on this LPE system for a number years before the technology became outmoded. I was surprised to see when I visited Yariv on his 80th birthday, that my LPE system seemed to be there still!

Meanwhile, I was eager to make my own creative contributions to IO. I worked with graduate student Hal Stoll to analyze the propagation losses due to a metal film on top of an optical waveguide as a function of polarization and waveguide thickness; he first study of this topic (and published without Yariv). [C8]

Nonetheless, I had been worrying about what I could do that was original with me. I came up with the idea that proton implantation in n-doped GaAs could create a waveguide due to its removal of free carriers, which increases the refractive index. I had the idea, did all the analysis and study, designed the experiment. Graduate student Hal Stoll worked with me on the experiments, and folks at Hughes who did the ion implantation. I thought here was a chance to make a name for myself, independent of Yariv.

I know it wasn't polite, but I didn't tell Yariv that I didn't put his name wasn't on the paper. He was furious! I was a bit surprised because the analytical paper with Stoll had not included him. I think he knew this paper would be more impactful. He added his name directly with the publisher. (Having spent my life as a professor, now, of course, I can fully understand his reaction!) [C7]

Yariv talked to me about "moving on." This was just after I had had the proton implantation idea, and I was upset. I wanted to see my idea through to a conclusion. I liked working at Caltech. It had been productive. I worked part-time in order to be with my children – worked from 10 to 3 – wanted to keep it that way. Yariv suggested I write a proposal to NSF on the proton implantation and fund myself. I did this, and it was funded, but my name wasn't on it because Caltech required the name to be a professor! This was the first NSF grant Yariv ever had!

Proton implantation was quite successful. We published the proton-implanted channel optical waveguide coupler array with excellent results and nicely analyzed by Somekh. Remains a popular paper. [C12] This was followed by a two-channel directional coupler also fabricated by this proton implantation with experiments to prove it. [C11] Sass Somekh went on to be a successful leader in silicon valley, both at Applied Materials and ultimately as President of Novellus.

In late 1973, I took a leave of absence to travel with our family for Gordon Garmire's sabbatical year. While in England, as I was finishing an extensive and definitive chapter on the state of integrated optics in semiconductors (published in the first definitive book on Integrated Optics), I received a letter from Yariv saying that my position would be gone. This was unexpected and caused me to panic a bit. I wrote to everyone I knew and received several hints about possible research positions. When the family came home (fall of 1974), Gordon told me he would not be moving back in with the family. Instead, he moved in with the wife of another Caltech professor. (They later married and had two children.)

I panicked even more, considering that I suddenly became a single parent with two children. Fortunately, Caltech allowed me to stay in their rental house that we'd lived in since we arrived in 1966. Caltech offered me a two-year position as senior research associate to get a separate research program going. But there was nothing keeping me at Caltech, so I moved to a research program at University of Southern California. A few years later I became a USC professor with tenure (without ever having been assistant or associate professor). This was partially in thanks for the research opportunities in Yariv's group.

My impression of Yariv's later work

After 1974, Yariv continued to work on lasers fabricated by my LPE system. However, the state of the art had moved to quantum well lasers, which could not be made by LPE.

By 1979 his students were producing lasers that could pulse 10 billion times per second. With help from DARPA he founded a company, Ortel, sold in 2000 for $2.5 B. There is Lucent Technologies' Microelectronics Group (Murray Hill, NJ) was buttressing its optical networking business and agreed to buy Ortel Corp. (Alhambra, CA), a developer of optoelectronic components for cable TV networks, for$3 billion in stock. Lucent was merged with Alcatel SA of France on December 1, 2006, forming Alcatel-Lucent, which was absorbed by Nokia in 2016.

This chain of technology has had a major impact globally on optical networking and communications.

M2 "Simulated Brillouin Scattering in Liquids"

Y3 "5C3-GaAs as an Electroopic Modulator at 10.6 Microns"

Y2 "Parametric Interactions of Optical Modes"

Y1 "Quantum Theory for Parametric Interactions of Light and Hypersound"

C6 "Observation of Propagation and Cutoff and its Control in Thin Optical Waveguides"

C5 "Observation of Mode Locking and Ultrashort Optical Pulses Induced by Anisotropic Molecular Liquids"

C4 "Second Harmonic Generation from Short Pulses"

C3 "Stable, Chirped, and Ultrashort Pulses in Lasers Using the Optical Kerr Effect"

C2 "Infrared Absorption at 10.6 μ in GaAs"

C1 "Laser Mode-Locking with Saturable Absorbers"

C11 "Channel Optical Waveguide Directional Couplers"

C10 "Optical Waveguides in Single Layers of GA1-XAIx As Grown on GaAs Substrates"

C9 "Laser Oscillation in Epitaxial GaAs Waveguides with Corrugation Feedback"

C8 "Propagation Losses in Metal-Film Substrate Optical Waveguides"

C7 "Optical Waveguiding in Proton-Implanted GaAs"