The National Science Foundation Class of 1952
By William A. Blanpied
Division of International Programs
Although President Harry S Truman signed the Congressional Act creating the National Science Foundation (NSF) into law on May 10, 1950, the agency did not receive a program budget until fiscal year 1952 (from July 1, 1951, through June 30, 1952). Of the $3.5 million appropriated by Congress for that fiscal year, NSF expended approximately $1.07 million for 97 research grants, and approximately $1.53 million to award 535 predoctoral and 38 postdoctoral fellowships.
A shower of gold. The new fellows were informed of their awards during the first week of April 1952. Among the predoctoral fellowship recipients, 154 were listed as first-year students, i.e., college seniors intending to enroll in graduate school in the fall; 165 were completing their first year as graduate students, and 216 had completed two years or more. Arguably, these 573 fellowships, awarded to aspiring scientists and engineers in 47 states and the District of Columbia, comprised the first widely visible indication that the National Science Foundation was open and ready for business. As Joseph Hull, a geology major at Columbia recalled, "I knew that there were political implications when Senator Mike Monroney of my home state, Oklahoma, wrote me a congratulatory letter reminding me that he had voted for the bill. I was also aware that supplying geographical diversity by being from Oklahoma gave me an edge in the selection. No matter. I was exhilarated. Being an NSF Fellow carried a lot of prestige." Hull received his PhD from Columbia in 1955 and then pursued a career with the petroleum industry.
"The announcements of the first NSF predoctoral fellowships fell like a shower of gold on several of my fellow students in Harvard's Department of Biology on a Friday morning in the spring of 1952," recounted Edward O. Wilson, now Pellegrino University Research Professor at Harvard. "I was a bit let down because I wasn't among them, but then lifted up again when I received the same good news the following Monday (my letter was late)."
NSF attempted to inform the awardees by telegram. But as it happened, other means also had to be used. Basil Curnutte, Jr., Professor of Physics at Kansas State University, was a second year graduate student at Ohio State University in 1952. He recalled that, "the notice [of my fellowship] came on the first of April 1952, and since Western Union was on strike at the time, the foundation had elected to send the announcements via the local GSA [General Services Administration] offices. I was not convinced that an announcement from the NSF would be delivered by a local federal office so I thought it might be an April Fool's day trick by one of my graduate student friends."
Peter von Hippel was then in his last year of a combined five-year BS/MS program in biophysics at MIT which he believes was the first undergraduate biophysics program in the country. He recalled that, "my mother called up the stairs one morning in the spring of 1952 (I was sleeping late after returning from the lab at about 5 AM), to tell me that someone from the NSF was on the phone and was claiming that I had been awarded a graduate fellowship! I remember sitting up so fast that I hit my head on the ceiling, since I was immediately convinced that I had to get downstairs to the telephone before whoever was calling discovered that they had made a great mistake and were supposed to be calling someone else." Von Hippel is now the American Cancer Society Research Professor of Chemistry at the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon.
I never thought to pursue a career in science. Hull, Wilson, Curnette, and von Hippel were among approximately 100 members of the "NSF Class of '52" who responded to a personal letter I sent in November 1998 to the 316 of the original 573 charter fellowship recipients whom I was able to locate by means of an on-line version of American Men and Women of Science. My letter suggested to this group of scientists and engineers that since their professional careers had approximately spanned the lifetime of the Foundation, they might want to share their recollections of their fellowship years and the impacts of those years on their subsequent professional life as a way to commemorate NSF's approaching 50th anniversary.
The birth years of these respondents ranged from 1917 through 1932, the median year being 1929. Many experienced military service in World War II and noted that their undergraduate education had been made possible, at least in part, by benefits received from the GI Bill of Rights, which had been enacted in June 1944. US higher education was becoming democratized during their undergraduate years. Peter von Hippel, among the youngest of the Class of '52, recalled classmates who were, "given the GI Bill of Rights, often considerably older and more mature."
"My father," Norman Lazaroff began, "was a tool maker, much in demand for his innovative ability; so as a high school student I admired skilled craftsmen with calloused hands rather than college trained professionals. Taken together with the stigmatization of people from my ethnic background, I never thought seriously of entering college in order to pursue a career in science. All that changed when the United States went to war."
"After the army," he continued, "I used the GI bill to matriculate at Syracuse University, for a bachelors degree in chemistry." Lazaroff was awarded an NSF predoctoral fellowship in 1952 and eventually earned a PhD in microbiology from Yale in 1960. He is founder-president of the Micronostix Company, and Research Professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
"I was very grateful and honored to receive one of the first NSF pre-doctoral awards in 1952," recalled Guido V. Marinetti, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Rochester. "It was a prestigious award which greatly helped me complete my graduate education. My Senator, Mr. Horton, sent me a personal letter of congratulations, and an article appeared in our local [Rochester, NY] paper. Since I was a WWII veteran, the GI Bill helped with my undergraduate education and to some degree my graduate education. Veterans were allowed to live in makeshift housing units where the rent was very low. Living in these units was a wonderful experience. We all were veterans and most were married and had young children. Our graduate education represented many different fields of study but all had a common bond of having served in the war and having a strong motivation to get a higher education. We exchanged our experiences and had many stimulating discussions on our respective fields of research. For us these discussions were an education outside of the University." Marinetti earned his PhD from the University of Rochester in 1953 and later joined the faculty of its School of Medicine and Dentistry. He retired in 1997 from the University as Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
An important institution for the government to create. Although they could not have known it at the time, these charter National Science Foundation fellowship recipients were destined to witness and, more significantly, to contribute to the remarkable flowering of the US science and engineering enterprise that occurred to a large extent because of Federal investments in university research and, from the evidence of the recollections of the NSF Class of '52, in the education of talented, motivated individuals.
Few members of this charter group of fellows seem to have had any prior knowledge of the National Science Foundation. Rather, most were prompted to apply for their awards by a mentor or, in at least one case, by a future mother-in-law. ("I assured her that I had no chance. But she insisted; she was a persistent lady.") Aaron I. Galonsky, at that time a physics student at the University of Wisconsin and now Professor of Physics at Michigan State University, recalled his complete surprise at receiving his fellowship from "an unknown organization," adding that, "we all knew the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission]." Despite widespread lack of knowledge of this new organization, the newly minted fellows were elated at the munificence of their awards which, at the predoctoral level, included tuition and a $100/month living allowance-considerably larger, by all reports, than the amounts available from teaching and research assistantships or from most of the relatively few other fellowships that were then available. Andrew Sessler, now Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, recalls that the postdoctoral awards amounted to $2,700-"real money!"
John Firor, a physics student at the University of Chicago in the spring of 1952 and later Director of the NSF-supported Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, was among those who did have at least some prior knowledge of the Foundation. He reported that, "as the 'world affairs' editor of the college newspaper I kept my eyes open for relevant news. I noticed an item somewhere about President Truman signing legislation to create a National Science Foundation, and I included this news in the following week's paper, together with the (completely uninformed) opinion that this was an important institution for the government to create."
Richard Lewontin, Professor Biology at Harvard, had even earlier knowledge of NSF. "When I was a high school senior in 1946," he wrote, "I was in the first wave of Westinghouse Science Talent Search winners. One of the things that the group did when we went to Washington was to testify before a congressional committee that was considering the National Science Foundation legislation. As bright high school students, it was our task to tell a somewhat reluctant congressional committee that the federal support of science through a national science foundation would be good thing. I do not know if that testimony had any influence, but you may well imagine that I remember the occasion very well." Josephine Raskind, later Peter von Hippel's wife, was a classmate of Lewontin's at Forest Hills High School and a co-Westinghouse finalist. She recalls meeting President Truman and physicist Lise Meitner, among others, on that 1946 trip to Washington.
At least two other members of the NSF Class of '52 had also been Westinghouse finalists One was Alan J. Goldman, currently in the Mathematical Sciences Department of the Whiting School of Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University who wrote that the multi-day trip to Washington for the finalists was the first time he had been away from his family even overnight. The other was Barbara Wolff Searle who reported that she was the "top girl" in that group in 1947. Searle was also among 32 women who received NSF fellowships in 1952. Remarkably, five of those 32 were seniors at Swarthmore College. "The men who took the exam were not slouches," Searle recalled," but whatever the test tested, we (the women) did better at." Two other members of the Swarthmore-5 also responded to my November 1998 letter: Vivienne Nachmias, recently retired as Professor in the Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Maxine Singer, President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Searle herself recently retired from the staff of the World Bank where she served for several years as an education specialist.
Joseph Berkowitz, who was working in the nuclear reactor program at Brookhaven National Laboratory when he received the fellowship that allowed him to pursue graduate work in chemistry at Harvard, had graduated from New York University as a member of the Class of 1951. “The opportunity to attend graduate school at Harvard opened entirely new vistas for me,” he recalled. “My fellow students were quite different from the ones I encountered as an engineering student. I discovered the addiction to basic research. I had the opportunity to attend lectures by future Nobel Prize winners. It launched me on a life-long career in basic research, which I didn't know was possible in my youth. It's probably no exaggeration to say that the NSF predoctoral fellowship changed the direction of my life.” Berkowitz, who spent much of his career at Argonne National Laboratory, is now an Emeritus Senior Scientist at that facility."
I decided that perhaps I should change fields. A theme evident in a large number of responses had to do with the significance of the NSF fellowship in permitting recipients to concentrate on study and research by freeing them from teaching or research assistantship obligations. Several respondents also noted that their fellowships allowed them to change their research directions. Burton Richter, Director Emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and a Nobel Laureate in Physics, recalled that as a student at MIT, he was working, "on an experiment [at the National Magnet Laboratory] to determine the hyperfine structure of the radioactive mercury isotopes. My job was to make the radioactive mercury isotopes, which I did by a kind of inverse alchemy turning gold into mercury using the MIT cyclotron. I began to find myself more interested in what was going on at the cyclotron laboratory than in what was going on with my experiment. As my interest grew, I decided that perhaps I should change fields. I went off to spend three months at Brookhaven seeing what particle physics was like. I found I loved it and on return transferred to the synchrotron laboratory and began working in the direction that I have pursued ever since."
"It may be that I could have done all of this with a normal graduate research assistantship but it would certainly have been more difficult. I would have had to find a professor who was willing to spend his own research money to give a young student an opportunity to try out some different area."
John P. Mayberry, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario and in 1952 a second year mathematics graduate student at Princeton, had been working as a research assistant to a professor who, as he put it, " 'did not scratch with the same foot'; I was no diplomat, and he preferred not to have substantive discussions with his most junior staff member. The NSF pre-doctoral fellowship for the 52-53 academic year avoided the need for him to fire me, and freed me from having to find other means of feeding my brains."
Robert M. Mazo, a senior chemistry major at Harvard in the spring of 1952 and now Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Institute of Theoretical Science at the University of Oregon, suggested that there were, "two primary classes of people affected by the fellowship program. There were those like me, already intellectually committed to a career in science, but uncertain about practical ways and means [of financing their graduate education]. Then there were those, many with great abilities, who were unsure about their career aims. The existence of a fellowship program temporarily freeing them from financial stress tipped the balance in favor of a career in science for many."
My NSF year allowed me to try things out. Many respondents did, in fact, emphasize that a significant benefit of their fellowships, in addition to its financial aspects, was a boost in their morale. Competing successfully for a prestigious award convinced them that they were, in fact, qualified to pursue careers in science or engineering. In contrast Laurie Brown, who had received his PhD in theoretical physics from Cornell in 1951, reported a somewhat different experience during his postdoctoral fellowship year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. "Although I worked hard and such long hours that my family life was strained, I developed a feeling of inferiority that remained for a few years after I left the Institute."
"How did the Fellowship year affect my career? It certainly brought me into rude and humbling contact with the larger world of theoretical physics. When I began to grasp how great were many of the physicists that I had been meeting every day, I became very grateful for the experience. I eventually learned to hold my own in speaking about physics, in commenting on others' work; yes, and in publishing. Toward the end of my academic career, I began to study and to write about the history of modern physics, a practice I expect to continue for the rest of my life. Certainly, my early experiences at the Institute have been extremely valuable for that." Brown retired from the physics department at Northwestern University in 1993 and continues to contribute significantly to the history of physics.
"My NSF year," as Swarthmore graduate Vivianne T. Nachmias recalled, "was primarily a year that allowed me to try things out, to search, to take more graduate studies and so to narrow my field of interest. I had the fixed idea that the only thing to study was the brain. But how? After my year with NSF support [in the Harvard Department of Chemistry], I went across the river to Harvard Medical School and there in the first year, I encountered cells, in my histology course with Helen Padykula as instructor. I did my first successful project with her (on muscle cells) and from then on I was as interested in cells as in the brain." Nachmias went on to earn an MD from the University of Rochester in 1957, and subsequently pursued a career in biomedical research. She conjectured that another reason for her decision to pursue an MD rather than a PhD may have been that, "at that time there was only, to my knowledge, one woman professor at Harvard, and she, a very successful astronomer, was from Russia 1. One indeed might conclude that there was not much chance of success along traditional graduate lines. On the other hand, one did see practicing physicians, though admittedly not many. The current scene is one of women succeeding in biology all over the place."
A few respondents reported that although they had entered graduate school intending to pursue careers in industry, their fellowship years convinced them to turn to academic careers instead. In contrast, George W. Parshall recalled that, "the academic progress and the financial freedom afforded by the fellowship gave me the liberty to explore a career in industry through summer employment. With the concurrence of my advisor, I accepted an offer from the Chemical Department of the DuPont Company to spend the summer of 1953 at their Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. That summer was an eye-opener! I was assigned to work with a team of chemists who were exploring the chemistry of a newly discovered compound, dicyclopentadienyliron, later dubbed ferrocene." That experience also convinced Parshall to pursue a research career with DuPont after receiving his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1954.
A few members of the Class of '52 benefited from possibilities for career change well beyond their formative years. Werner Ulrich highlighted events leading to receipt of his PhD in electrical engineering from Columbia in 1957 and the years of his career in research and administration at Bell Laboratories. "In 1981," he continued, "I joined the Bell Laboratories Patent Staff, and went to Law School at night, achieving my J. D. in 1985. I continued to practice as a Patent Attorney until my retirement in 1995, and am at present a solo practitioner, writing patents for Bell Laboratories, now a Division of Lucent Technologies, Inc." He then noted, almost as an afterthought, that, "while I was Director of Advanced Switching Technology, I studied for an MBA, (Executive Program), awarded in 1975 by The University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business." Ulrich concluded by asserting that, "if my own case is in any way representative, I believe that the National Science Foundation has made a major contribution to the nation by encouraging financially strapped students to take advanced degrees in the sciences and engineering."
I always knew that the Science Foundation would do a great deal of good for the country and for the world. Responses from several members of the Class of '52 expressed gratitude to NSF for having helped them launch their careers in science and engineering, a few regretting that they had not done so years earlier. Daniel Lednicer, who received his PhD in chemistry from Ohio State University in 1954 and went on to pursue a career as a research chemist at the National Cancer Institute, was among those who decided not to wait-and to go straight to the top at that! "Some time in the spring of 1954," as he recalled, "renewal of the NSF Fellowship for a third year came through. I was wakened bright and early on the morning following the party to celebrate the event by a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch. I must have been less than sharp in answering his questions."
"That renewal did make me realize that it would be appropriate to thank someone for this generous support of my graduate studies. The man who had proposed NSF and steered the bill through Congress was none other than the immediate past President, Harry S Truman, a man whom I admired even back in 1954. So a letter expressing my appreciation went off to him that summer. A letter in an expensive looking envelope with a Kansas City return address arrived in early October." Lednicer made available a copy of that letter, whose tone is quintessentially Trumanesque:
October 2, 1954
Dear Mr. Lednicer:
Your good letter of September 21 was very much appreciated.
I always knew that the Science Foundation would do a great amount of good for the country and for the world. It took a terrific fight and three years to get it through the Congress, and some smart fellows who thought they knew more than the President of the United States tried to fix it so it would not work.
It is a great pleasure to hear that it is working and I know it will grow into one of our greatest educational foundations.
/s/ Harry S Truman
An appointment with Pauling. Responses from the NSF Class of 1952 included occasional anecdotes about famous scientists of the era. Robert G. Ghirardelli, a senior in college when he received his fellowship, drove from his home in San Francisco to Pasadena to begin his graduate work in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. Arriving on a Saturday morning, he was chagrined to find the chemistry laboratories locked, since he needed to determine the time and place of the examinations that all incoming chemistry graduate students would be required to take early the following week. "I asked the desk clerk at the Athenaeum if he had any advice. He promptly offered to call Linus Pauling, chairman of the department, at home. Sensing my alarm at this, he assured me that Dr. Pauling was a most unpretentious person, unfailingly pleasant to people in all walks of life, a judgment that my own experience later confirmed."
"The next day the clerk reported he had spoken by phone with Mrs. Pauling, who had relayed the question to her husband. His response was that he wanted to meet all the incoming graduate students, and that I should come to his office at 9:30 Monday morning. Promptly at 9:30 on Monday I entered the chairman's outer office, and announced who I was and why I was there. I will never forget what happened next-Mrs. Wulff, his secretary, looked me over and said: 'You should be in the main lecture hall; the organic examination began at 9 o'clock.'"
"I came to realize right then that questions about the nuts and bolts holding the department together were best addressed to those surrounding the chairman, rather than to the great man himself, who was still two or three years away from receiving the first of his two Nobels." Ghirardelli, who did manage to take and pass the organic exam that day, received his PhD in 1956 and then pursued research with the US Army's Research Office while also serving on the Adjunct Faculty of Duke University.
HUAC and the Korean War. Several respondents recounted the academic and political environment of the early 1950s. William Lands, who completed his PhD in biochemstry at the University of Illinois in 1954, recalled that, "attitudes on campus at the time ranged from lots of veterans eager to finish their training and get on with their jobs mixed with a growing ferment of undergraduates interested in 'returning rah-rah' to campus life. The latter led to bizarre news items of 'panty raids' at women's dorms. I missed it all! Study and research, plus the conservative environment, kept in the background many hot issues of the time, like the draft quotas for the Korean War and the accusations of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)." After receiving his PhD, Lands received an NSF postdoctoral fellowship to conduct research at the California Institute of Technology. He recalled that, "for a Mid-Westerner, Pasadena was like a foreign country where they spoke English, and we absorbed all of the climate and culture that we could. Disneyland opened that year, HUAC continued to harass people in Hollywood, and Pauling was allowed only limited travel to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry." Lands continues to evaluate research at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
After completing his PhD at Columbia with his final year supported by an NSF predoctoral fellowship Andrew Sessler, Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley and a past president of the American Physical Society, received an NSF postdoctoral fellowship. As he recalled it, "that year, there were two NSF postdocs given to Columbia students. Each was big money: $2700 (as I recall). Bob Mills was recommended to work with [C.N.] Yang at the Institute for Advanced Studies, and those two did work that changed the course of particle physics. At the same time, it was recommended that it would be more "my style" (already my limitations were showing) if I went to study with Hans Bethe. So I did, but unfortunately the Oppenheimer affair broke that year and I didn't see as much of Bethe as I expected."
"No sooner had I obtained my PhD," Sessler continued, "than I was drafted into the Korean War. An induction notice arrived; I was to appear on the very next Tuesday morning. The situation seemed hopeless, but my wife convinced me to call the NSF. With much hesitation, on a Friday afternoon, from a pay phone on the Cornell campus, I called the NSF. Somehow-and I don't know how-they got General Hershey [Director of the Selective Service System], in Washington, to over-rule my local Board. I wasn't inducted and I was able to start my NSF postdoc."
Leo Sartori, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Nebraska, reported a similar experience. "The Korean War was on and I recall that MIT had an assistant dean whose main responsibility was to argue with draft boards that graduate students ought to be deferred. It was touch and go; at one point I actually received an induction notice, which was canceled only days before I was scheduled to report for induction. Perhaps my NSF fellowship helped persuade my draft board that the nation's survival depended on my being allowed to remain in school. It retrospect it seems unfair that I was allowed to stay in graduate school while others had to go off and risk their lives. But that was not the way I saw it at the time."
I can only hope that I have repaid my debt. Several respondents took note of their relations with NSF after their fellowship years. According to Edward O. Wilson, "throughout my career on the active [Harvard] faculty, the National Science Foundation was the main support of my research. I received my first grant in 1958 ($10,000 for two years as I recall it), and grants followed unbroken thereafter until the last one ran out in 1995. This 37-year continuous span is probably not a record, but it is surely one of the longest. As a result of the continuity, I took on a number of difficult, often long-term projects."
John Firor, who had first discovered NSF as world affairs editor of his campus newspaper, concluded his response by reflecting that, "my activities have been entwined with the Foundation over much of its history and most of my scientific career. As a result, I find that I owe a great deal to NSF and can only hope that the many proposals I have reviewed, the proposal selection committees I have sat on, and informal discussions about future directions I have held with NSF leaders have in some measure repaid my debt to what has indeed turned out to be 'an important institution' "
The sense of obligation evident in Firor's response appeared in others as well. William H. Darnell, who received his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1954 and subsequently enjoyed a successful industrial career with DuPont, asserted that, "I am certain that the GI Bill plus NSF and other substantial fellowships gave many, many people the training and education to fulfill worthwhile scientific and technical careers. I happily paid the income taxes on my very nice income-and hoped that some of it could be recycled to give others the opportunity for an enjoyable career that I had attained. I also was well satisfied with my career in chemical engineering because it bridged across from basic research to industrial application in product process and manufacturing development. It was rewarding-and fun."
Alan Goldman, Professor of the Mathematical Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University, suggested that, "it's a fair question whether I've managed to 'pay back' society adequately for the investment and honor of that early fellowship, since it was offered neither as a gift nor an entitlement. Sneaking up on retirement, I'm egotistically inclined to feel that such a payback has in fact occurred. But the path of causality is not so simple, and the nature (let alone quantity) of the returns on such investments is scarcely describable in advance."
Donald Holcomb, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Cornell, concluded his response by suggesting that, although "one wants to avoid fatuous generalities, I do think it is fair to say that the coincidence of the career spans of me and my contemporaries with the lifespan of the National Science Foundation created a symbiosis which has profited both us as individuals and American science in the large."
I'm glad that I'm no longer involved in that activity. While agreeing with the importance of NSF both to their own careers and US science and engineering more generally, a few respondents were also critical of NSF's administrative practices and policies. Allen Devinatz, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Northwestern University who was a recipient of an NSF post-doctoral fellowship in 1952 noted that as a graduate student at Harvard, "the atmosphere in the Mathematics Department at Harvard was not a congenial one for graduate students. Many of us (possibly a majority) were led to believe we were not very good..." After receiving the the NSF post-doc he continued, "I went to the Institute [for Advanced Study] where I found the atmosphere both relaxed and friendly. I met some of the leading mathematicians of the century...Thus the awarding of an NSF post-doc in 1952 had a positive influence on my life and career. It changed my thinking by realizing that most of the mathematicians whom I had come in contact with were decent people, and that there was a place for me in the academic mathematical community." But he also remarked that, "from 1952 on, I had been continuously supported by the NSF, either by fellowships or summer grants, for over 30 years. During that time frame it seemed to me that the NSF had become more and more bureaucratic. Indeed, for a long time there had been a great deal of criticism (including my own) about the way in which grants were awarded. I don't really know what the situation is now, but when I see the kinds of hoops my younger colleagues have to jump through in applying for a grant, I'm glad that I'm emeritus and am no longer involved in that activity."
Philip Teitelbaum, who received his PhD in psychology in 1954, had criticisms of a more fundamental nature. "I eventually dropped my NSF-support, as money from NIH became increasingly available, and in larger amounts for longer periods of time. Also I became increasingly frustrated by what I consider to be the rigidity of NSF administrators. They have a particular view of how to discover new things in science, the commonly accepted hypothetico-deductive method. I don't work that way, and never have. I pick a big puzzling abnormality, manipulate the variables that affect normal behavior of that type, and immediately discover new phenomena and relationships in the action of the simplified fewer remaining systems that act to produce the abnormal behavior." He went on to add that, "I believe that physiological psychology, in the name of increasing molecularity, is being forced to build medicine, rather than psychology. The policies pursued by NSF strongly potentiate this approach. This is unfortunate-of all the subdivisions of psychology, physiological psychology has the power to use physical simplification of the nervous system to reveal principles which can build psychology directly." Teitelbaum is Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida.
I didn't realize how fortunate I was in my timing. Many respondents recognized, in retrospect, that despite problems they had experienced during their years as graduate students, such as uncertainties about sources of financial support or the possibility of being drafted for the Korean War, they had also enjoyed luxuries unheard of today. After receiving his PhD in physics from Harvard in 1953, Stanley Deser went on to the Institute for Advanced Study. "We were privileged in not worrying about our next step in life; that was for our mentors to arrange, and indeed in my case I found myself at the Institute for Advanced Study for the following two years, without such superfluous steps as writing an application or soliciting letters of recommendation: [Julian] Schwinger phoned [J. Robert] Oppenheimer and it was done." Deser is Professor of Physics at Brandeis University.
Peter von Hippel concluded his narrative by reflecting on what he characterized as a true golden age for American science. "Clearly I didn't realize how fortunate I was in my timing, having entered graduate school as the NSF predoctoral fellowship program was being invented, then coming along as a postdoc just when postdoctoral fellowships were becoming available, and finally becoming a young faculty member just when NIH (for the first and probably only time in its history) had more research and fellowship money than reasonable applicants to spend it on!"
"Now, almost 50 years after receiving that first NSF Award, I find myself still having just as much fun and hoping that events will work out so that my students and postdocs who are similarly inclined will be able to follow in my footsteps."
On the basis of this admittedly unrepresentative sample of slightly more than 100 responses, I am convinced that NSF's $1.5 million investment in the Class of '52 has returned substantial dividends to American science and engineering and therefore, to the country as a whole. Certainly many of the recipients benefited personally, and most continue to be grateful for the opportunity given them almost a half century ago. Harry R. Powers, Jr., who received his PhD in plant pathology from North Carolina University in 1953 and has recently retired after his career with the US Forest Service, recalled that in the spring of 1952, "I was in the second year of my Ph.D. program. However, my family had quite a few medical bills that year, and as was usually the case, we had no medical insurance. I could see no way out except to leave school and get a job. Fortunately, our department head had encouraged all of the graduate students to take the test, a hard 8 hours as I recall [the Graduate Record Examination, the primary basis for the selection of fellows during the first year]. When the telegram came saying that I had received the award, I cancelled plans to drop out of school since the fellowship provided more than I had been getting."
"Even though it is long overdue, I would like to take this opportunity to say 'Thank You' to the National Science Foundation for their help all those years ago. By the way, I still have the telegram I received informing me of the award way back those many years ago."
Postscript. In the interests of full disclosure, I should state that I am a member of the NSF Class of '55. My NSF predoctoral fellowship was of immeasurable assistance in allowing me to obtain my PhD in physics from Princeton in 1959. Thanks to an NSF postdoctoral fellowship, I was able to work at the National Synchrotron Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, in 1959-60, an experience that stimulated what has become a lifelong interest in the international dimensions of science.
My mother saved the telegram announcing my first NSF fellowship that the Chairman of the Yale Physics Department handed me in the spring of 1955, and I have taken appropriate steps to preserve it for posterity. Until I received Harry Powers's communication, I had even fancied that might be the earliest extant example of that particular genre.
Finally, I must confess that until my first years as an assistant professor at Yale, I was not aware that NSF did anything besides award fellowships to aspiring scientists and engineers!
1 Nachmias was probably referring to Ceceilia Helene Payne-Gaposchkin, originally from the UK and a protege of Harlow Shapley, whose husband Serge, a White Russian immigrant whom she met at Harvard, worked as a machinist and jack of all trades at the Harvard College Observatory.
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