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Oral History
Robert Leighton Oral History Interview with Heidi Aspaturian

Resource available online.

Abstract: An interview in seven sessions in October and November 1986 and January and February 1987 with Robert B. Leighton, William L. Valentine Professor of Physics, emeritus, in the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy. Dr. Leighton received his BS in electrical engineering from Caltech in 1941, then switched to physics (MS 1944; PhD 1947). He joined the Caltech faculty in 1949, becoming a full professor in 1959 and Valentine Professor in 1984. He recalls growing up in Los Angeles during the Depression; his early interest in mechanical things; his undergraduate and graduate years at Caltech; influence of W. V. Houston and W. R. Smythe; work on aircraft rocket launchers. Recollections of Willy Fowler, Charles Wilts, Paul Epstein, Carl Anderson, Fred Hoyle. Discusses his work on the mesotron (muon); cloud chamber experiments on strange particles; writing Principles of Modern Physics. Postwar rebuilding of Caltech physics: Robert Bacher; R. A. Millikan’s attitude toward theoretical physicists; Robert F. Christy; J. R. Oppenheimer; Richard P. Feynman’s first visit to Caltech. Photographing the sun and planets with Mount Wilson 60-inch telescope; Fritz Zwicky’s differential photography method; study of Zeeman and Doppler effects; discoveries of solar oscillations and supergranulation; search for a new solar observatory site; choice of Big Bear. Collaboration with Gerry Neugebauer on infrared sky survey; discovery of “dark brown” stars; work on Mariner Mars missions. Recalls his teaching; editing the Feynman lectures with Matt Sands; Feynman as lecturer; difficulties in editing Feynman’s lectures; recollections of Feynman. Discusses his instrumentation for millimeter and submillimeter astronomy; establishing Caltech Submillimeter Observatory at Mauna Kea; Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Concludes by commenting on his plans for improvements on Mauna Kea.

ID: 1995-00182
Leighton, Robert Benjamin (Physicist)

Creation Oct. 8, 1986 through Feb. 12, 1987

Book; LENGTH: 140 pages

Topics: Physics

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