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Oral-History:Ray Sears

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About Ray Sears

Ray Sears is a communications engineer best known for his invention of the coding tube and barrier grid storage tube at Bell Labs. He has a B.S. in physics from Ohio Wesleyan University and an M.S. in physics from Ohio State Graduate School. After he graduated, he went to Bell Laboratories in 1929 and worked on vacuum tube technology. His work on thin films at Bell Labs got him involved in semiconductor research with Dr. Becker. In 1939 he replaced Ray Wilson as head of vacuum tube research for Bell Labs, and was responsible for chemists who were working on various aspects of tube production. During World War II he continued to work on cathode ray tube technology; after the war he was involved in electronic switching systems. In 1962 he went to Bell's space program systems engineering company, Bell Com, as one of its founders, and was involved in Ph.D. recruiting for Bell Labs and Bell Com. In 1965 he returned to Bell Labs as director of university relations, and continued his recruiting and personnel work. In 1970 he retired from his position as executive personnel director at Bell Labs. Throughout his career, Sears was very active in IRE and IEEE.

The interview begins with Sears' education and his early work at Bell Labs on thin films, semiconductors, and vacuum tubes. After treating his promotion in 1939 and his work on cathode ray tubes during World War II, he discusses his invention of the coding tube and barrier grid storage tube and his work in electronic switching systems at Bell Labs. He discusses his work at Bell Com from 1962 through 1965, then moves to his last years at Bell Labs, pointing out how his career shifted from technical work to personnel work; he emphasizes his recruiting work for Bell Com and Bell Labs. He discusses in some detail his IRE and IEEE activities, referring to a variety of committees on which he served, including the TAB. He also refers to positions he held in electron devices groups and to his position on the IEEE Board of Directors. Suggesting that IEEE is most useful to engineers through its publications and technical meetings, Sears discusses his own positions of the IEEE Board and Executive Committee, and his work for the IEEE Foundation. He discusses his own international contacts, and concludes with comments on the IEEE's attitude towards the IEEE History Center.

About the Interview

Ray Sears: An Interview Conducted by Loren J. Butler, IEEE History Center, January 18, 1995

Interview # 236 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Ray Sears, an oral history conducted in 1995 by Loren J. Butler, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Ray Sears

Interviewer: Loren J. Butler

Place: New York

Date: January 18, 1995

Education & Early Career at Bell Labs

Butler:

Why don't you start by telling me about your earlier experiences?

Sears:

I went to Ohio Wesleyan University as an undergraduate where my major was physics with minors in mathematics and astronomy. I guess that all hangs together as I just studied something interesting. I met my future wife there; in 1926 we had our first date. I was ahead of her and after I graduated from Wesley I went to Ohio State Graduate School where I worked towards my master's degree and taught physics to pre-med students. Pre-med students weren't at all interested in physics.

Butler:

That hasn't changed.

Sears:

That hasn't changed at all. But at any rate after I graduated there, I went to Bell Laboratories in 1929.

Butler:

Before we move on to your work at Bell Labs, can you say a bit more about the kinds of things you studied as a physics student at that time and how you think they did or didn't prepare you for your work at Bell Labs?

Sears:

The courses I liked best were mathematics and electricity and magnetism and electromagnetic theory. Of course back in those days I did learn about Maxwell's equations. But the main thing was that anything I took really interested me. My interests weren't really focused on one thing, except that I did a thesis in magnetism. When I came to Bell Laboratories I didn't come as a specialist. I came just as a lad who had been to school; I guess they thought that I was interesting. I went through two or three days of introduction what they did at Bell Laboratories. I heard a talk by Dr. Becker, who was in the research laboratory, and who was working then on thermionic emission, thin atomic layers on surfaces. I thought that was great because it had an application in vacuum tubes; we called them vacuum tubes in those days, not electron tubes. He wanted me to come into his group to work on thermionic emission and really to be a link between his research and the research in his department, and the development and research on electron tubes.

The matter of getting good emission from the cathode or filament in the vacuum tube in production was very chancy in those days resulting in a lot of economic factors. If you made a lot of bad tubes you had to throw them away, but I was to be that link to help improve output and reliability. That's research with a little practical bent to it. Dr. Becker reported to C.J. Davison. It was Davison and Germen who, after I was there just two years, received the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering that electrons are waves in addition to the particle concept that everybody had about electrons. When they were awarded the Nobel Prize, reporters came and wanted to take pictures in front of their apparatus. Their apparatus was so messy that they took pictures in front of my experimental apparatus. That didn't make any difference. At any rate, that's kind of the background I was in.

Butler:

How did you get your job at Bell Labs? Do you recall?

Sears:

A recruiter came from Ohio State and talked to Alphie Smith, who was head of the department and my thesis advisor. I guess he recommended me and I talked to the recruiter there, and pretty soon I had a letter of offering employment.

Butler:

Were there a lot of other young physicists joining the staff at Bell Labs at that time or was it unusual?

Sears:

Yes, in the fall there were probably about forty. I don't remember the exact number but we started in the fall as sort of a class. People got assigned to different areas. I lived in East Orange with three other men who worked at Bell Laboratories in 1929, just at the start of the Depression. I started at thirty-five dollars a week and I was very lucky; I guess they were impressed a little bit, because in six months, I had a raise to fifty dollars a week. Then I began thinking about getting married, which I did in 1931. I had started graduate work at Columbia University part-time while I was at Bell Labs. I went all through that except I just didn't finish up and get my doctorate degree, but I had taken almost all the courses. During the Depression in the 1930s, the economics became pretty bad when we were working only four days a week. We had a youngster and had to try to make ends meet. This is an aside, but unfortunately my wife became ill just as when we were married. She developed a streptococcus infection in the bloodstream. Her home was in Baltimore and we got her back there. This was before sulpha or antibiotics and she was ill several months. It was touch and go for six months but she pulled through. Every weekend for three quarters of a year I drove to Baltimore and back.

Thin Films and Semiconductors

Sears:

I started to work on thin films, studying barium on tungsten, oxygen on tungsten and that sort of monatomic layers. It was very interesting because I would get to go to conferences, and I got acquainted with many people including Irving Langmuir at General Electric. He was quite an authority in that field. He was interested in thin oil films on water, that is, single layers of molecules. I was working on single layers of absorbed atoms. There is another man who worked with Becker who came the same year I did; that was Dr. Walter Brattain, who years later was the principle inventor of the transistor. Some of the things that he and we all did in those early days, on the side, really laid some background for the transistor. Dr. Becker, my boss, was also interested in copper oxide rectifiers, which was really a semiconductor. Why did rectifiers rectify?

I got interested in semiconductors and did some measurements and some studies of silicon carbide. If you get the right kind, it's transparent. You could look through it, and yet you could conduct electrons. Why? I guess we never really did find out, but at any rate we studied the conductivity of a number of some conduction. I conferred weekly with people in the electron tube area and was involved with such problems as why some nickel made good cathodes for oxide-coated emitters and why some nickel made very bad cathodes. It was a problem. Years later we had some major clues as to why. During the time I was doing basic research on thin films, I was really consulting with the vacuum tube people. All during this time too, Becker and other gentlemen were working on copper oxide to try to understand it, because copper oxide rectifiers were used commercially quite extensively and they could only be made from copper out of one mine in Chile. If you tried to make it out of some other copper you couldn't; they weren't any good.

Butler:

You were trying to understand why?

Sears:

Semiconductors have small amounts of impurities. In retrospect, you can see there was a little bit of semiconductor background in the group. Gerald Pearson got interested in semiconductors that were sensitive to heat. He developed those and called them thermistors; they still call them that and they are used today. During that time, I went to a lot of Physical Society meetings to meet physicists who were interested in thin films. At the same time, I became interested in electron optics, the focusing of electron beams. Dr. Davison, my supervisor’s boss, had worked up some theory about electron lenses, and that got me interested. I wrote some papers on the effect of space charge in limiting the concentration of the electron beams. The space charge caused electron beams to diverge. They'd have the same polarity and push apart. That's about as much as I can say about the first ten years I was with Bell Laboratories except during this last period in which I became interested in focusing electrons, where there was potential practical application. I had been working with the tube people. We had a "tube luncheon" once a week. A lot of things happen when you talk to other people at lunch. It's very important to have engineers or scientists working with other people and making casual contacts to find out what's going on. Introductions are stimulating and productive.

Directorship of Vacuum Tube Research

Sears:

In 1939, M.J. Kelly (he was active in IEEE, and received several awards.) was director of research. Tube development was then under research. I was called to Dr. Kelly's office and he said, "Ray, Fred Lack [who was head of the vacuum tube research] is being transferred to the Western Electric Company to take care of patents. Ray Wilson is going to move up and be the director of vacuum tube research. I want you to go across the street and take over Ray Wilson's job." I was just a young kid. "How soon?" "Right away, just as soon as you can get over there." That was Kelly; he talked with his eyes closed. He had the most fabulous memory of anybody I have ever contacted. He could remember minute details about this experiment or that experiment.

This was in some sense my life's darkest moment. By that time, I had been transferred to Dr. J. B. Johnson. Johnson was famous for his understanding and mathematical formulating of the noise from resistors. That determined the ultimate amplification that you might ever achieve — the lowest noise that you could detect. So after Kelly said, "You are promoted — get over there," I thought I ought to go back and thank my boss. The darkest moment was when I walked in and he didn't know anything about it. I will say parenthetically that I was a good friend of Johnson's. He first lost his wife and then later on he had diabetes and lost a leg after he retired. As President of the Electron Devices Group (now called Society) it was my pleasure to award him the IEEE Zworykin medal.

In the tube area, my responsibilities were a group of chemists working on the many problems in vacuum tube production and another group working on cathode emission problems. Cathode emission problems were of course presumably my expertise by that time, but the chemists had to do processing of vacuum tubes. Well, very soon thereafter, before we got into the war, we got involved in military work.

War Work and Underwater Cable

Sears:

The man next door to me in the office was Dr. Pidgeon. He had been working on vacuum tubes for underground cables. We wanted to lay a cable to Europe in which voice could be transmitted. Cables had existed before, but only for the telegraph. They had come up with a tube design and I worked with him on cathode emission problems, because you had to have tubes with a very long life. The long life to the vacuum tube was very important to the Bell System on long distant lines because tubes were used in repeater stations all over the country. To have vacuum tubes that lasted a long time was very sensible. But under the ocean where you couldn't get at them to replace a tube was a problem. I was only peripherally involved in the development of that, but I did consult on the cathode, and that's what determines the life of the tube. The cable was put in the 1950s, but I'll tell you more about that later.

During the war, I was involved with all kinds of work with the chemists group and other groups on various new types of vacuum tubes, including magnetrons for radar. The British made the first magnetrons for the use of radar. They sent one over to us and I was there the day that it arrived and saw it for the first time. At any rate, all during the war, we worked seven days a week.

Butler:

Did you hire more people during the war?

Sears:

Yes. There were a lot of other men working. It was not until after the war that some of the more famous Bell Laboratory people in electronics were employed. J.R. Pierce was there during the latter stages of the war. Bell Laboratories was developing radar, and we were interested in power tubes and high frequency. I had developed a new coating for the anode. I used powdered zirconium which helped to clean up and keep the vacuum. Zirconium was a risky material to work with because it's exothermic; that is, it burns, it sets itself off. Later I received a patent on this anode material. I had the biggest trouble with this because of my notebook entry. I was in New York working at this patent application at the Western Electric tube shop, on the first models. It was Sunday the day that Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and of course that was the date I entered in my notebook. Everybody who worked on that patent, wondered if that date was right? Because they knew it was a Sunday. This was interesting, because that anode material was used extensively during the war in certain types of tubes.

During the war we had a large basement room filled with repeater tubes that were on life, aging. This was part of our studies of what affected the life of the tubes. We had samples of submarine cable tubes that we hoped would get into the first cable. During the war we had to abandon most of that life testing. We were told to abandon the cable tube too, but we didn't; we kept those on line. This was done on the side, but it turned out to be very beneficial. The name of our department changed from Vacuum Tube Research area to Electron Device Development. I had a group working on a gas discharge tubes also to go in the submarine cable. The cable had a single wire center and the outside metal casing which was the ground, and it was powered with direct current from each end. Eighteen hundred volts of DC and all the heaters in the repeater tubes cathodes were in series. If one ever burned out the repeater would be out — how could you find out what heater it was? It would be just like an open wire; there was no way to measure.

A gas tube was developed which was bridged across the heater, and if the heater would burn out the gas tube would fire and maintain a circuit. The repeater would be out, but by maintaining that circuit you could make measurements to find out where the break was. So, there were two electronic gadgets in its first submarine voice cable. Later when the first cable operated for years and years without a tube failing. A tube never did fail. The cable was later sold to the Navy for business more recent years, and about five years ago that was abandoned and pulled up. My son, who is at Bell Laboratories, and I was involved, have a working tube from that first cable.

Butler:

It was under the ocean all that time?

Sears:

Under the ocean all that time. It is still workable; I have it on the shelf here.

Butler:

That's remarkable.

Sears:

I'll give it to a museum. The History Center of IEEE is not ready yet?

Butler:

No.

Digital Signals & Barrier Grid Storage Tube

Sears:

At any rate I thought that was interesting. I'll show you the tube before you go. During the war I maintained my interest in focusing of electrons in the beams. They were now used in cathode ray tubes. The early cathode ray tubes were gas focused, not very good. During the war you really had to have really good cathode ray tubes — that started really before the war. Towards the end of the war, some people came to me in New York from then Murray Hill, and said, "We are interested in theoretically changing analog signals into digital signals for transmission. But using vacuum tubes to do this job takes a lot of equipment. Is there any way that you think you can help us?" They just formulated the problem, so I then conceived of a coding tube using electron beams to convert analog input to digital output. In a cathode ray tube, you put a voltage on deflection plates and that deflects the beam up and down like on the television set, and you can put a disk with apertures on it, and that produces codes depending on the main codes.

That was interesting to them they asked if I could make one. Sure I could make one and did. They made the first experimental set up at Murray Hill. Instead of doing it just at slow speed signals for telephone they wanted to do it for high-speed signals with television. That was really why they were interested in anything that I might come up with to do this. The head of the department at Murray Hill was named Potter, and there was a young man named Larry Meechum, who worked on this. At any rate I produced not only a tube that could convert analog to digital, but also an electron beam device to do the reverse, that is to convert digital to analog. I received patents on both of them, and we successfully demonstrated the transmission of television signals with pulse code modulation. This is used now on all long distance transmission because the only noise you have is a quantizing noise of the coding process and any other noise it picks up in transmission gets discarded. That's now the basis of CD's for music and so forth. It started way back when. Now they don't use beam tubes for coding and so forth; that's passé. I guess you might say it was interesting because it was the first way to do it. At the same time this developed the question of how to store information at high speeds. I invented a storage tube called the barrier grid storage tube, in which I had a mica-insulating surface on the semiconductor. You put charges on that with an electron beam and then wipe them off with the electron beam later on.

I was then involved with IRE because back in 1929, I was moved over to take the job because Fred Lack had been transferred to the Western Electric Company. Fred Lack was involved in IRE, and in 1930 he was the head of an electron device research conference at Stevens in Hoboken. I then joined IRE because he asked me to form a session on secondary emission and another session on electron emission of which I was "the expert." I became active in the IRE that way and IRE made me a fellow because of the invention of the coding tube and the invention of the barrier grid storage tube.

Butler:

You said in the beginning that you had been going to a lot of American Physical Society meetings. At what point did you sort of stop going to those meetings and concentrate more on the IRE, the specialized electron devices movement?

Sears:

In 1939 or 1940.

Butler:

So all through the 1930s you were still attending them.

Sears:

All through the 1930s was when I went to the Physical Society. It was 1939-1940, just before the war, that I got interested in IRE. I had moved from the basic physics research area to the research and development area, so my interests moved in that direction. I had some interest in development right from the beginning. That was the transition. During the period between 1944 and 1949 I was still in New York, but I was doing the business of coding tubes and storage tubes and that sort of thing. Then we moved everything to Murray Hill. In the meantime, during the war, Becker and some of my old associates in research were still in research but they were doing things of interest to the war, some of them having to do peripherally with the atomic bomb. I hadn't been to Murray Hill very long when Joe Becker, my former boss, had a stroke and died.

Walter Brattain, who was still working for Joe, was transferred to another department but still had kept up his interests in thin films. Back in the 1930s, when copper oxide, silicon carbide, thermistors and that kind of thing, which had something to do with Brattain's continued interest in semiconductors. This was the background for the invention of the transistor. Walter Brattain really was the discoverer of the transistor; the other two "inventors" were theoretical people who had interpreted his experiment. They weren't really the experimental or model inventors. Bardeen was the top theoretical man and knew what was going on. Shockley was their boss, a very smart man, but he wanted credit too. Incidentally, he used to carry his Nobel medal around and when he would go into a bar he would show it off. Later he became, as you know, involved in racial difficulties.

I soon became interested in the electron devices group in IRE and became the chairman of the electron devices IRE group in the New York section. I am going to give a little bit of the IRE-IEEE business as we go along.

Telephone Switching System

Sears:

In the Murray Hill technical end of the business, the systems people at Bell Laboratories had been interested in switching telephone calls electronically. Up to that time it was all electromechanical. They wanted gadgets to help out with this. This was much before the transistor, so storage with my barrier grid storage tube was a natural for them because they were going to use early computer ideas to control the switching network. By that time my interests had expanded and I had the entire gas tube group in my supervision. The gas tube people had been for some time working on what they called a talking path diode. It was a little gas tube which if we put above a certain voltage would break down and the discharge would start and then the voltage would be low. It really went from high resistance to low resistance. You can have a whole cross network of these and put the voltage at one side of the matrix and it would fire a path through its other side that looked great for a switching network, provided this gas discharge path was low resistance enough. Actually it had a negative resistance because of the characteristics after break down. The noise was low enough to be satisfactory for switching. So a tube had been developed for that gas tube network, and electronic switching people were going to use it.

One of the interesting things which I was involved in was that the early stage of the gas tube, gas tubes were used in place of relays in some respects because of their characteristics. Above a certain breakdown voltage, the voltage would go low, so it had a trigger action. In the 1930s a manual switchboard had been developed using gas tubes as relays in a little PBX switchboard installed in Macy's department store. It worked fine for days, and the installation people said it was fine and they put the backs on the cabinet. It was a weekend, and when they came in on Monday the switchboard wouldn't work. We called it "The Macy Effect." You have to have some stray electrons around in order for a gas tube to fire. This would be produced as long as the gas tube had a little light around. But with the thing boxed up it wouldn't fire. We had to put a very tiny bit of radioactive material in the device, so I was involved with this and its safety aspects. We used that in the little talking path diodes.

Butler:

And this was done in the late 1940s?

Sears:

Well, the electronic switching people were working in the early 1950s really. They were going to use my barrier grid tube for a rapid memory, but we would call it "random access memory" (RAM) in terms of current notation. They were also going to use a more permanent memory (ROM) which could be changed, but changed slowly in terms of an optical memory system. That used a cathode ray tube with a series of lenses in front to focus on a photographic negative and the photo receptor in the back of that. The cathode ray would point to various places and you could read the optical information. But you would have to change the picture or the photograph to change the memory. They talked to us about building a cathode ray tube that would do this but it had to be a very fine cathode ray tube, small enough, and reproducible enough that you could change the tube without having to change the photographic negatives. We wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole.

They went to other cathode ray tube manufacturers, in particular to Dumont. Dumont said, "Oh, we could do that." So the system development proceeded on the basis of Dumont producing such a cathode ray tube. The system was well along and they still didn't have a cathode ray tube. Dumont was having trouble, so finally Dumont said, "We can't do it." Now they come to me and they say, "Hey, we have spent a lot of money and it will collapse unless we get a cathode ray tube. Can you bail us out? You must bail us out." To make a long story short, we did. It was a great big cathode ray tube and it had to have a perfect optical face. We made a metal tube with a flat face. Any piece of glass has little defects if you examine it with a high enough microscope, a little bubble, so none of the glass people could make glass that would fit our specifications. We solved the glass problem by going to Pittsburgh Plate Glass and taking store window glass and optically examining it to make a map of all the tiny imperfections. When found a place that would produce a ten-inch circle, we cut it out. The yield was about one in every two slabs of store window glass (1 inch thick). That and my electron storage tube were used in the first electronic switching system, which was made and installed in Morris, Illinois. And it all worked fine.

We used a gas tube network but by then transistors had been invented, and now it was a competition between gas tubes and the new transistors. Of course, transistors won out in the end, and transistor networks or chips with transistors on them were used later for the fast memory and all the things that we had done with the electron tubes. At any rate, that was the first electronic switching system; all switching systems are now electronic. Peripherally I got interested in computers at that time.

NASA and Bell Com

Sears:

1949 I had moved to Murray Hill from New York. In 1959 I built a house right next to my office in Murray Hill, less than a quarter of a mile from my desk, which was to be my retirement house. But in 1962 the government had put enough pressure on Bell Labs and AT&T to get some help for the space program that AT&T finally agreed to form a company in the background to do the systems engineering for the space program. I was one of the five men who went down to form this company.

Butler:

And that was in Washington?

Sears:

In Washington, that's right. My responsibilities there were on the first man-machine interface; that is what should be done by man, and what should be done by machine? Machines meant electronics or mechanics. It was a broad interpretation. What can astronauts do? What is man physically able to do? So I had a group of psychologists. In a short time I also had a group responsible for the communications.

I should now back up a bit back to when I was in New York. When Bell Laboratories were interested in finding good people they sent technical people to universities as their representatives to search out good people. This was done for people at the bachelor's level and master's level in cooperation with recruiters from the telephone operating companies. But for their focus on Ph.D. recruiting, Bell Laboratories sent technical people from Bell Laboratories to do that. For the larger universities like MIT and Stanford and the University of Illinois they had a small group of two or three technical people go. They would visit that campus two or three times a year, and get to know the faculty very well so that they would know when a professor said, "So and so is a good guy," what he really meant. We could get acquainted with graduate students and perhaps help them with their thesis work a bit. I went first one year on the team to Stanford University and became the chairman of the recruiting team at both Stanford and Illinois. I was very successful, but I just like to talk to people and vice versa. I recruited some very fine people from there and also I made one or two special trips abroad. I recruited president of Bell Laboratories; I recruited two others who became executive vice presidents.

At Washington the company was called Bell Com, and I was also responsible for recruiting and getting Ph.D's. We also borrowed a lot of engineers from the telephone operating companies. In a sense, I was in the personnel business in Bell Com too; personnel was part of the staff operation and I was in technical operations. We had a man from Western Electric who headed the staff operation; accounting and contracts and that sort of thing. Bell Com was very interesting.

My wife didn't like to live in Washington and I was on the verge of domestic problems. John Hornbick was the President and a good friend of mine, and I said "John, this isn't working out well for me. I liked the work and want to stay, but when something opens up back at Bell Labs, do you think you can get along without me? Move me back." And they did in 1965. My wife doesn't know all about this. She knows I was transferred back, of course, but it was mainly because of her unhappiness that I moved back. I was involved heavily with communications and with what we call operations research, and quite a bit in personnel recruiting.

I kept up my active contacts in Stanford and Illinois, all during Bell Com and so forth. One time, when I was at Bell Com, and the Bell general recruiters were at Illinois, I was scheduled to fly out and give a talk at an engineering facility dinner on plans for Apollo. It was late winter and there was a terrific snowstorm. After I landed at O'Hare, it took an hour to get into to the terminal. I got to a motel finally. They had at least two feet of snow or something like that. The vice president of Illinois Bell was supposed to meet me. He didn't but I got him on the phone, and told him where I was. He said, "I'll drive out and we will drive down." You couldn't fly out; the airports were all closed.

We started to drive to the University of Illinois down in Champaign. We started out on Route 66. It had stopped snowing, but it was blowing so hard it was just like a fog. Roads were tricky and icy and slippery and so forth. We drove down part way and then we had to take a road off to Champaign. We started down that one and soon were met with a blockade. The roads were closed so we kept on going on 66 and finally by noontime we stopped for something to eat. He was at the wheel and said, "Let's go back," and I said, "No. Let's go on. You are tired, I like to drive. Let's go on." I drove. We ended up going way south and coming into Champaign from the south. We got to this Champagne when the dinner was in progress; people were eating. I didn't have time to eat, but I had time to have a strong glass of bourbon. Then I gave a talk and I ate dinner. He said, "Boy, if they are ever going to get to the moon, you keep on it, and they are going to get there."

Recruiting Work

Sears:

When I came back to Bell Laboratories in 1965, I was sixty years old. My title was "Director of University Relations". I was in charge of all Ph.D. recruiting and in charge of the internal educational activities at Bell Laboratories via work on an education committee that we had. That was my job for the rest of the time I was at Bell Laboratories. Then the last three years they moved me into Executive Personnel Director.

Butler:

It sounds like you were involved with recruiting on and off in different capacities for quite some time. Did you get any sense of a change over that time of the sorts of students you were recruiting? There were students who were becoming more specialized as time went on. Were there any trends like that?

Sears:

Yes. Students became more specialized particularly at the Ph.D. level. Of course, any Ph.D. is specialized in a sense. But there were more physics students who had in their physics theses greater familiarity with computers and electronics than had been the case years before that. The education system had been changing and keeping more or less up to date. I recruited as much in physics as I did in electrical engineering. The top schools in electrical engineering certainly were Stanford, Illinois and MIT. I think we have hired more people from those schools than any. I went to MIT a little bit, but I was more familiar with Stanford and Illinois. For the last two and a half years I was also the executive director of personnel at Bell Laboratories. That was just because of my background. I really moved out of technical work.

Butler:

So it sounds like at Bell Com your responsibilities ranged from technical over to staff recruitment. It included both sides?

Sears:

Yes. All along we have had an in-house education program for people with bachelors and master's degrees. I taught in some of those classes and we also had instructors from New York University come to Murray Hill as well. Joe Shea in NASA was head of NASA's systems engineering in Washington before Bell Com was formed. He was responsible for the systems engineering of the space capsule — not the propulsion. Joe had been in one of my classes at Murray Hill so I was his instructor. So in a sense I have had quite good educational contacts all through my career. This has been interesting because it kept me close to academics. I guess that's why I was the personnel guy too at the end. At the end of 1970 I retired because I was sixty-five. All my patents are in the field of electron devices. Of course they are not much good now, because they are too old and they have been replaced by more modern technology.

Butler:

But historians are very interested in them.

Sears:

I was interested in computers. For example, I went down to see the Eckert-Mauchly computer at the University of Pennsylvania. A great big room filled with vacuum tubes. Computer development has been quite something. I suspect my little PC which I have on my desk has almost as much computing power as they had at Bell Laboratories when I retired in 1970. Now, would you like to talk about IEEE?

IRE and IEEE

Butler:

Yes, I would like to hear about your experiences in IEEE.

Sears:

As I said earlier, I was interested in electron devices. People that knew about electronic devices got together in IRE and then, eventually, I became the chairman of the Electron Device group in the New York section of IRE. I was chairman for three or four years and still stayed on the committee. Then IEEE was formed and I was still interested in the electron devices group. IEEE was formed about 1960. I was elected chairman of the electron devices group in IEEE, later called a society. I guess that first I was the treasurer of that group in IEEE and then I became the chairman. That was about 1962 when I was with Bell Com. I still kept my interest in electron devices. Then I became a member of TAB and the treasurer of TAB and later the vice president of TAB. I never became chairman of the TAB. Jim Mulligan, I think was the chairman of TAB at that time, but that was when TAB was just formed. I was quite interested in the finances of the electron devices group, how they got money from IEEE for their activities. In 1968 we were in Hawaii on vacation with another couple, around Thanksgiving time. I had a telegram from Don Fink, asking me if I would be willing to be the secretary of IEEE. I said, "That would be fine." So I was secretary for a year and then treasurer for two or three years. Of course I had given up my TAB job by then. I enjoyed being on the IEEE Board and Executive Committee. I have been on many committees like the Life Member and that sort of thing.

Butler:

I know it is a very long list of activities.

Sears:

I’ll hit the main points. In 1973 the IEEE formed a professional group who were headquartered in Washington and gave up their tax exempt status. The IEEE Foundation, Inc. was formed as a separate corporation using IEEE's name by permission of the IEEE. It was a separate corporation. It required that all the Foundation board members be former directors of IEEE and at least the majority of the directors be currently directors of IEEE. That way, donations coming in to the Foundation would be used for IEEE purposes through the loyalty of the former directors and the concurrent directors. I was the first treasurer of the Foundation and Foundation. Members were elected for three years. I was only elected for one year; some were elected for two and some for three so that you could set up an election sequence. After a year, I was re-elected as treasurer and I have been reelected every three years since that time! I am the only person so honored. I was the President of the Foundation for three years, and I am now the Senior Vice President and Secretary. My term will be up again at the end of next year and I am not going to stand for re-election. I will be ninety then and it's time for the old man to bow out.

Contributions of IEEE to Profession

Butler:

Do you have any general thoughts about how IEEE has contributed to the profession or to the careers of people you have observed over time?

Sears:

I am sure IEEE’s main contributions to careers have been in two areas: first, the technical publications, and second, the specialized meetings the various groups and societies have held. I don't think IEEE has had much influence on the direction of education in universities. And I am not sure that they should. They should be interested in education, but what they can contribute is not a major thing, in my opinion. I don't think IEEE has contributed very much in helping people get jobs. I will modify that a little bit. They did quite a bit particularly in the first employment depression, in the 1970s, by having conferences here and there. I haven't really kept up with the doings of the USAB. Along the way I was involved on the Ethics Committee. I was chairman of that community for a couple of years, but I don't think that has been a major contribution, nor should it be. The major contributions have been through the technical papers and through the conferences.

I suspect IEEE does a pretty good job of helping engineers through technical publications. That is the "service" that they give. IEEE has been built up to a point where we are having financial difficulties due to the large staff that we have. I don't know whether the efficiency of that can be improved. I was chairman of the Facilities Committee when we decided to move some of the operations to New Jersey. I had to abstain from voting on this and had it recorded in the minutes because we bought the property from AT&T. I was in AT&T as an employee of Bell Labs. When AT&T built the tower building across the street from IEEE, they bought the then-vacant IEEE property to protect themselves. It was zoned for business. You could have a supermarket come in there and they didn't want something like that. IEEE got a tremendous bargain buying that land because AT&T sold it to IEEE at their original price because AT&T could not be in the "real estate business". They were leaning over backwards not to violate the kind of business they were in.

International Connections

Butler:

Did you establish any international contacts through your work, either through IEEE or work at Bell Labs?

Sears:

Yes, one contact through IEEE but mostly through Bell Laboratories. I participated in a number of visits abroad to companies in terms of patent license negotiations; they wanted technical people to be involved. I became good friends with a Frenchman who was involved in the defense telephone business in electron devices. One time my wife and I were in France and we were even invited to their home for dinner. When I was involved in making this cathode ray tube for electronic switching, we didn't have a phosphor that decayed fast enough when the beam went off. We needed to produce light of high intensity but then we would turn the Electron beam was turned off the light would have to disappear quickly. The persistence had to be very low. There were no phosphors known in this country that were fast enough, so I made a tour of European research laboratories and Universities looking for clues to obtain such a phosphor.

Butler:

So you remember what year this was?

Sears:

This was the 1950s; it was about 1955, I think. I took two Ph.D.s in my group. Ours had two Ph.D.'s from a University in Germany and one from the University of Paris. He spoke lots of languages, so I took him with me for visits in Germany and talked about phosphorous. Then I had another supervisor (an MIT Ph.D.) in my group who went with me the rest of the tour we had our wives with us, so we took a week’s vacation in Italy. We visited some research laboratories in Italy and then we visited France, Belgium, Holland, England and Sweden. I came back with small phosphor samples from here and there. I have forgotten which one we ultimately used; we did develop a good composite phosphor. None exactly fit the bill, but by making proper combinations we were able to meet the requirements.

Once when I was then on the board of IEEE, I visited IEE headquarters in London. I am trying to think what our negotiations were; I was alone. I met the guy who corresponded to Don Fink, but he didn't work like Don Fink; he autocratically ran the IEE. Don Fink was IEEE’s executive director, but the board of directors really ran the board. It about that time there was a group of dissidents wanted to fire Don. I defended Don so we had a big battle for years. This was about 1970-1971.

Well I can't think of much more, I have enjoyed contacts with many and diverse technical people. That's really a big advantage of IEEE, the contacts that you can make with other people. I believe I have been working in the forefront of electronics, not like an engineer who is called in to say, "Look, I want a new communications system in my building or in my office or this or that." So, IEEE has been great for those kinds of contacts. That has been the biggest contribution of IEEE to my career, not necessarily their technical publications.

Butler:

Because you were at the forefront.

IEEE History Center

Sears:

Yes, through the meetings and through the activities of getting to know people. I will tell you that history has not been one of my favorite subjects. I flunked history in college; it was the only course I ever flunked as a freshman in college. I took it over and passed.

Butler:

Do you have any interest in history now or is it still not your favorite?

Sears:

No, I think it's good to try to preserve some of the things. For example I think there is a fine new book by the ex-president of Brooklyn Polytechnic

Butler:

Ernst Weber.

Sears:

Weber. I think that's a great book. That's one of the best histories. I sure did enjoy that really. So, I am interested in history. As a matter of fact, in the Foundation I’ve been a pretty good supporter of the history. Are you am IEEE employee or a Rutgers University employee?

Butler:

I am an IEEE employee. I joined the History Center a little more than a year ago.

Sears:

I think that IEEE is wrong in considering the history group as (I don't mean it as bad as it sounds) a second-class citizen. They haven't been willing to put the finances on a good budgetary base. It's being funded in part by sources that the history division has to find, including the Foundation, and we've supported that. We have just agreed to help with an endowment to which the IEEE and the Friends Committee will contribute. I don't know whether the IEEE Board has approved this yet, to make an endowment of two and half million dollars, which should help. I would like to see IEEE fish or cut bait.

Butler:

That's sensible.

Sears:

I think that they are wrong in not having supported this, although looking back. Maybe that had to be the case in order to get it started.

Butler:

Certainly it is an evolving institution. We'll see where it goes.