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Working at ORNL in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s

Gerald R. North is Distinguished Professor and the Inaugural Holder of the Harold J. Haynes Endowed Chair in Geosciences at Texas A&M University, and previous Head of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. His interests include climate change using simplified climate models.

A native Tennessean, he grew up in Knoxville and began working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory while a student at the University of Tennessee. The memories of Oak Ridge that he shares in this essay are distilled from a chapter of his book, The Rise of Climate Science: A Memoir, published by the Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas, in October 2020.

I first came to Oak Ridge as a co-op student from the Chemistry Department at the University of Tennessee (UT) in my hometown of Knoxville. I had considered medicine as a career, but I liked chemistry, and during the winter quarter of my freshman year I learned that there was a co-op program that could provide sorely needed assistance for my expenses, while also giving me some useful experience.

I qualified for the co-op program, and I was assigned a job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is only about 25 miles from Knoxville. The plan of the co-op program was that the student would alternate one quarter in school and one quarter at work. My pay was good during work quarters (about $190/month), and I was able to get into a car pool to Oak Ridge and back to Knoxville every day. My riding companions were nice older men who were salaried employees at ORNL. They charged me only a meager amount for the rides and picked me up and dropped me off at my home. This great opportunity paid my tuition, then only $52 per quarter. (It would jump in the next year to $75 per quarter — still a bargain.)

Obtaining this appointment in the ORNL Chemistry Division was one of many breaks I encountered in my career. I worked at the X-10 site a few miles from the town of Oak Ridge. After FBI checks, I received a low-level security clearance, and I wore a badge that registered how much radioactivity I had been exposed to over a period of a few months.

My mentor at ORNL was Dr. Milton (Milt) Lietzke, a research scientist, who supervised a laboratory in physical chemistry. Another co-op student and I alternated quarters in Milt’s lab. The “section” (like a small academic department) of the Chemistry Division in which Milt worked was dedicated to research that supported several nuclear reactor projects at X-10. In particular, the main focus in Milt’s work related to the homogeneous liquid uranium reactor, a pet project of the director of ORNL, Alvin Weinberg.

Instead of the solid fuels used in most reactors, this one used uranium compounds dissolved in strong acid solutions. This high-temperature liquid flowed around in pipes and eventually into a nearly spherical volume, where it was concentrated enough to go critical. At that stage nuclear fission reactions released even more heat that could be extracted for energy production.

One of my jobs was to study the solubility of different uranium electrolyte compounds (salts) in pure water (aqueous) or acid solutions at various high temperatures. This kind of knowledge was critical for the operation of such a reactor, because an ongoing problem was corrosion of the pipes and pumps in these superheated solutions.

It was in this lab that I came into contact with a graduate student in Milt’s group: Richard S. (Dick) Greeley, who worked as a nuclear engineer and group leader for a reactor project in ORNL’s Reactor Experimental Engineering Division. Dick was working on his PhD in chemistry at UT, and in his dissertation work he used me as a technician in his experiments on the so-called hydrogen electrode. This was also a high-temperature experiment with aqueous solutions. The experiment involved inserting a small capsule filled with liquid in a titanium shell and slowly raising the temperature in a carefully controlled oven. We put the cell in an oven and turned up the temperature in increments, measuring the voltage between two electrodes deep in the capsule to see how it varied with temperature. I was acknowledged in three papers published in physical chemistry journals in 1959–60. The acknowledgments read: “We also wish to thank Mr. Gerald North for extensive help in making many of the measurements.” Milt Lietzke and Ray Stoughton were coauthors. One of these three papers was Milt’s most cited article.

I was in awe of all these guys, especially Dick Greeley. He had a bachelor’s degree from Harvard (gentleman’s C’s, he said), and he went straight into the U.S. Navy to serve in the Korean War. He was the executive officer on a small destroyer. As we worked at some boring task in the lab, I would ask, and he would relate stories from his experiences. To me Harvard was some mythical place, where only gods pranced around the “Yard.” Of course, I was impressed with his Harvard degree, made complete with his Boston accent (“Hahvahd Yahd”), like John F. Kennedy’s. He had me over to his home for dinner, and he and his wife actually attended my wedding when I married Jane Enneis in 1959. They both seemed to me the epitome of class, education and charm.

Dick left ORNL after finishing his PhD, moving to MITRE Corporation, where he worked for many years. MITRE is a nonprofit company that provides scientific and engineering services to large enterprises by contract. I met Dick again many years later, probably in the 1980s at a meeting at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. He was representing MITRE on a project related to climate change. We sat around a table with other climate experts, and I proudly told him of my research—I could have burst, knowing he was proud of me. 

Another of my jobs in the chemistry lab at ORNL was to determine the solubility of different uranium compounds in various kinds of solutions over a range of high temperatures. We had a small oven, like a toaster with a window, that sat on the lab bench. I peered through the thick quartz window, wearing heavy safety glasses, viewing small capsules of aqueous solutions of uranium salts. The small capsules made of quartz were about three inches in length and about a half inch in diameter. A row of them with a common axis slowly rotated end-to-end, their centers fastened to the axle rod. The end-over-end rotation assured that the solution was well mixed. At low temperatures I could see the tiny crystal of the compound in the rotating tube. As the temperature in the oven was very slowly changed, equilibrium could be maintained. I could eventually see the crystal disappear into solution and record the temperature of that event in my lab notebook. I generated many tables and plotted up my results.

Each capsule had to have a precise amount of distilled water, and a few micrograms of the uranium-salt crystal. The crystal had to be weighed in a clean room with a very precise weighing balance. This was pretty hard for my clumsy hands. But the difficult part was sealing the quartz tube with the solution inside. The procedure went as follows: First, cut a length of the quartz tube to about a length of about four inches with a hacksaw, and seal one end using a blowtorch while wearing a hooded helmet with viewing window and holding the tube with tongs. Now let it cool down.

It gets more difficult. Next you pour in your distilled water from a pipette with the crystal inside your capsule that is now sealed at one end. Don’t spill (this stuff is expensive)! Now hold the little tube with the tongs and dip its closed end into a bath of liquid nitrogen to fast-freeze the liquid inside (you do not want any to evaporate or boil away in the next step). The final stage is to quickly move the open tube half full of the frozen stuff to the torch and seal off the top. If you do not do this fast enough, some solvent will not be quite frozen and the tube will explode (splattering the window of your hooded helmet with bad radioactive stuff and broken quartz). When this catastrophe happens you have to start all over.

Milt could execute this entire procedure with the greatest of dexterity and ease, never failing. I must have tried it a dozen times and never was able to do it. Well, maybe I did one by pure accident. Milt was incredibly patient with me, but in the end he had to close all of the capsules for me. Once I got the tube cut and closed at one end, I measured out the solvent (the liquid that does the dissolving) and weighed the solute (the tiny crystal being dissolved) and inserted them into the tube ready for sealing. I would run across the hall to his office and hope he was there. Those weeks were important for my career and life. I was beginning to realize that I was not a very good high-precision worker in a lab when the job called for great dexterity. I knew I made the right decision not to be a surgeon!

As each of my academic quarters finished, I could not wait to get back to my job in the Chemistry Division. The scientists I worked with were kind and everyone was on a first name basis. There was Milt and Joe (Joseph Halperin), his office mate. Milt had a PhD from Wisconsin, Joe had a PhD from Chicago, and the group leader, Ray Stoughton, brilliant and nice, received his PhD under the direction of Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg at the University of California–Berkeley. Ray had a bad leg from polio when he was a child, but he never stopped. Being around such educated scientists made me feel that I wanted to be like them, independent researchers all. To enjoy a middle-class life, fueled by work that one loved! (Well, maybe not if it involved quartz blowing combined with liquid nitrogen.)

These scientists looked down on the lowly professors at UT (ironically, Milt eventually moved over to UT as a professor). I began to see how the prestige of scientists fit into a hierarchy based on their skills, credentials (pedigrees), and their productivity. I could discern a pecking order in the Chemistry Division.

The group welcomed me for lunch in Ray’s office every day. Others joined our lunches occasionally, but I was one of the “regular” guys. We all brought our lunches (mine a baloney sandwich). They each had peculiar outside interests, but I especially remember an interest in parapsychology and other mysterious weird subjects. At that time there was a Professor Rhine at Duke University who studied paranormal phenomena and worked at doing experiments and applying statistical methods to the results. Of course, none of the experiments ever actually demonstrated anything, but my friends continued to search the literature on the subject. Books and articles were read and discussed. I thought it demonstrated that they were very open-minded. I became interested, but not for long—too nutty.

Milt was one of the most interesting and unusual men I have ever known. Aside from his expertise and skills as a chemist, he could read and speak many languages, including German, French, Latin and Greek. He had read the New Testament in the original Greek edition recorded almost 2000 years ago. He had memorized numerous opera librettos, and he could sing them. He loved number theory and would speak about it in the office during coffee breaks, chalking proofs on the blackboard. Milt was also a master of limericks and he could rattle them off by the dozens. (I had never heard one before.) He also had raunchy rhymes for every letter of the alphabet.

Having seen what a klutz I was in the lab, he taught me how to use the computer housed in our same building. Milt’s wife was a programmer, and he admired her tremendously. He acknowledged her for computations (and me for making the measurements) in a couple of his papers.

The computer at ORNL was called the Oak Ridge Automatic Computer and Logical Engine (ORACLE). The acronym matches the name of the place in Greek mythology where men went to query about the future. The ORACLE was installed at ORNL in 1954. It was one of the first operational digital computers. I learned to write out a program in the hexadecimal number system. Hexadecimal is based on sixteen as opposed to our usual ten-based (decimal) system. You can indicate a single number as 1, 2, …, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F.

On paper tape, you can indicate the digit by a series of four spaces across the tape. For example, unity is represented as blank, blank, blank, punch. A punch is called a bit. A hexadecimal digit (called a nibble) is composed of 4 bits. Sixteen (or F) is represented by punch, punch, punch, punch. So a sequence of numbers can be punched into the tape. As the computer takes in the tape, it advances by one of these steps at a time. You can also code instructions, for example to multiply two numbers located in specified locations and store them at some other address. These coded instructions could be strung together, and there were possibilities for loops, logical “if statements,” etc. It takes a while, but one gets used to the hexadecimal language and can read what’s being transmitted on a strip of paper tape.

I would go into the keypunch room (incredibly noisy, well over 100 dB) and begin punching up my program. If you make a typo, you can rip out the tape and duplicate it until you come to the error. All this requires the ability to read those hexadecimal patterns in the punch holes. I was able to do that, but I am a pretty bad typist (I could not write an essay today without a word processor), making the work pretty long and grueling. But I did learn to do calculations that were pretty complicated. This would help me through the passage to my next job at ORNL.

I went nonstop during my quarters at the Chemistry Division. While I was working at ORNL, UT offered evening courses in the town of Oak Ridge for employees trying to better themselves. In particular, they offered calculus and physics (sophomore level with some calculus as prerequisite), both courses suitable for the curriculum appropriate for engineering and science students. One quarter I took both in the evening, a five-hour calculus course and a four-hour physics course. Needless to say, I was busy every night and weekend. I stayed in a dorm in Oak Ridge that quarter. But I took night courses in either Knoxville or Oak Ridge every quarter while working. I could take a bus to work and a bus to Knoxville on Friday night. I never seemed to stop. I weighed about 125 pounds at 5’9’’ height. I smoked too much (it was the 1950s), and thought eating was a waste of time—I wished I could just take a pill instead of making a lunch and then taking (wasting) the time to eat it.

In my sophomore year I took chemistry courses that involved labs. As already was evident, my lab skills and the required patience were lacking. I always rushed to get the experiment or the laboratory analysis finished so I could get the hell out of there. Along about this time I took an advanced physics course and advanced calculus (to the dismay of my chemistry advisor), both of which better suited me. I then took physical chemistry, using the famous book by Daniels and Alberty (I still have it). Aesthetically it contrasted so much with the elegant math and physics courses that I could not bear it. Moreover, the chemistry professor was terrible—I cannot even remember his name. He had students stand at the blackboard doing homework problems. I found this practice to be excruciating. I hated listening to a student discuss his attempt at a solution and the professor trying to get him through it (or was he?). I always thought the left side of my stomach was eating the right side during these ordeals of the belabored students, including me. Most of physical chemistry revolves around the science of thermodynamics. Years later I came to love thermodynamics as taught by physics books and even coauthored a book with good friend Dr. Tatiana Erukhimova on atmospheric thermodynamics while at Texas A&M—just one of those funny ironies (North and Erukhimova, 2009).

The wise Herr Professor Sommerfeld, who turned out to be my academic great-grandfather, said: “Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don't understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two points. The third time you go through it, you know you don’t understand it, but by that time you are so used to the subject, it doesn't bother you anymore.”

Transition to Physics

I loved math and physics and I began to dislike chemistry. My problem was that a co-op program for physics majors did not exist. Engineers and chemists could do it, but not physicists. My chemistry friends (especially Dick Greeley) went to work to find me a job at ORNL that would be physics-related. This turned out to be in the Thermonuclear Experimental Division, later known as the Thermonuclear Division, which was located at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant (now the Y-12 National Security Complex). During the war, Y-12 was the main location for uranium isotope separation using “calutrons.” You can read about these machines (now a problem with nuclear proliferation) at this website:

Oak Ridge was perhaps more famous for its Gaseous Diffusion Plant (K-25), which I will get to later. You can learn about how to “enrich” uranium by this method and take a virtual museum tour at this website: At that time, ORNL, Y-12, and K-25 were all operated for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission by Union Carbide Corporation.

DCX Experiments

Researchers in the Thermonuclear Experimental Division worked on projects related to the prospects for energy from nuclear fusion. This nuclear mechanism utilizes the fusion of light nuclei such as 1H (a proton) with a neutron or perhaps with a 2H (deuterium, whose nucleus is composed of a proton and a neutron) to form a helium nucleus, accompanied by a release of energy. This is the thermonuclear principle used in the hydrogen bomb. But in this case, as with all the other nuclear projects at Oak Ridge, the aim was to tame these processes for peaceful applications. Hence, we were trying to build a fusion reactor or at least conduct theoretical and experimental studies on how this might be accomplished. The group I was attached to was to work on an experiment called the Direct Current Experiment (DCX).

Another wonderful experience was in store for me. I first managed to arrange things so that I worked only 32 hours per week. This way I could live in Knoxville and take a course in the morning and then drive to work. I could also take UT night courses either in the city of Oak Ridge (here, math and physics) or at the Knoxville campus (economics, history, and other requirements for my BS degree).

Yet another fortunate circumstance awaited me in the Thermonuclear Division. Security was tighter at Y-12 because of its association with isotope separation, but I had nothing to do with those matters. I was primarily hired as a computer programmer. This is somewhat laughable today as I am a terrible programmer. But in those days I was better at it, and only very few scientists were skilled at it. I was assigned to be the assistant to Ms. Mozelle Rankin, a mathematician who was an expert on ORACLE programming as well as on other machines that were emerging at that time, such as the IBM 704 that had just been installed at the K-25 site (ten miles away). The programming language for the IBM 704 was FORTRAN, a much more user-friendly computer language than the “machine code” in hexadecimal characters. Instead, FORTRAN code was written on punched cards.

Mozelle was absolutely wonderful, a fine mathematician, numerical analyst, and a friendly, patient mentor. Her office, which I shared with her, was right next door to the leaders of the division: the director, Dr. Art Snell; Dr. Ed Shipley; and Dr. P. R. Bell. It was close enough that I could hear them arguing about science and engineering. Of course, I got to know them because I was writing programs for Shipley and Bell—although Snell was a PhD atomic physicist, he was too busy with administration to have much contact with me.

Shipley was a very lively, even flamboyant, PhD in electrical engineering and former professor, who would dazzle me at the blackboard with sketches of his ideas. It was clear that he had been a teacher and he missed it. He was very creative, persuasive, and lovable. P. R. Bell was fascinating. He was brilliant, argumentative, and ever in a hurry, wanting answers from the calculations he had me doing. He always wore a three-piece suit and colorful tie. He was nearly blind from work he did during the war. He had worked at the MIT Radiation Laboratory. X-rays (or even worse radiation) permanently damaged his eyes. Because of it he wore some tiny lenses attached to the rim of this glasses that he could fold down in front of his regular lenses, similar to the arrangement used by jewelers. He clearly liked me, but he wanted his answers quickly and they had to be correct. He would look at the output of my programs, flicking down that lens, and tell me my result could not possibly be right. His physical intuition was extraordinary. He could not do math anymore, but that intuition and sound scientific judgment worked remarkably well. Often he was right, but not always. When everything worked, he patted me on the back and gleefully squeaked; then he ran out to tell everybody he could identify. His manner put off some of his peers. Years after I left ORNL, he married Mozelle.

A man in the division named John Luce, who had started as a technician, worked on carbon arcs. These arcs are used in big searchlights to provide a very bright point source of light in front of a curved mirror to focus a strong beam into the night air. They were used during World War II to scan the night sky for enemy aircraft and are now used mainly for gala events and publicity. ORNL became interested in these arcs for other purposes. One was the possibility of disassociating hydrogen molecular ions (H2+) into its atomic constituents: H+ and H. Luce came up with the idea that we could create a magnetic field and run the arc along parallel to the field lines. He tried this and it worked. This could be used to create a plasma.

A plasma is a high-temperature gas that is so hot that the electrons are no longer tightly attached to the atoms. If one could create such a plasma at high enough temperatures, there is the (remote) possibility of having the atomic (actually nuclear) collisions be hard enough to induce fusion reactions leading to helium nuclei and the release of huge amounts of energy. The ORNL Thermonuclear Division was formed in 1957, and resources were allotted to see if a Luce-type machine might be built that could harness the H-bomb concept for peaceful purposes.

t was this creative idea that developed into a device called DCX, the Direct Current Experiment. When I arrived, DCX was up and running. A beam of H2+ ions was to run through the arc, producing the plasma. The atomic ions (H+) then were confined by the magnetic field in the chamber. The magnetic field was very strong, and it was pinched such that its lines were squeezed together at the ends of the chamber. This pinching of the magnetic lines formed a kind of mirror, reflecting ions back towards the interior of the device. The longer it ran, the more dense the plasma, and it was guaranteed to be hot because of the high speed of the newly generated H+ ions.

Theory suggested that this should produce thermonuclear reactions in the interior if there were not too much leakage through the mirror and out of the machine. Mozelle and I wrote codes that calculated the trajectories of the ions. The problem always was that if the ion’s helical trajectory was tilted too much along the magnetic lines it would fly right through the mirrors. We were able to show that the “magnetic bottle” worked for a large class of the orbits. Unfortunately, mild collisions of the ions with each other would inevitably cause some to eventually be oriented into the angles that would cause them to leak. DCX failed because it could never achieve enough density of the ions to produce fusion reactions.

DCX-2 and the Physicists

But there was hope. The next step was to build a bigger and better device called DCX‑2. I participated in the design primarily through calculations related to ion trajectories and to the magnetic fields. Some new scientists soon appeared in my immediate vicinity. These were real PhD-level plasma physicists. There were three that made a strong impression on me: Al Simon, head of the theoretical group; T. Kenneth Fowler; and Robert L. (Bob) Mackin. Another plasma physicist was Edward Harris, a physics professor at UT, under whom I had taken a year-long course on modern physics. Harris was a wonderful teacher and he was also a consultant to the division. At one point I did some calculations for Harris for a famous paper that he wrote on plasma stability.

Ken Fowler worked with Mozelle and he occasionally had a brown bag lunch with me. He had a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin. I got to know him well, and he provided me with advice that eventually led me to his alma mater for my own PhD. His dissertation was in high-energy theoretical physics, sometimes known as elementary particle theory. He worked under Kenneth Watson, who moved on to UC Berkeley before I arrived at Madison. Ken suggested that in graduate school I should study elementary particle theory because it was at the frontier of physics. The leading edge is where you must use the very most modern mathematics. After you get your PhD you can change fields, as he did into plasma physics, for example.

A Magnetic Field Problem

One of my accomplishments in the Thermonuclear Division was in the study of magnetic fields. It is well known in introductory physics books that an infinitely long cylindrical metallic shell with a uniform electrical current going around it produces a magnetic field that is perfectly uniform in the interior and that the magnetic lines of force are parallel to the axis of the cylindrical shell. The formula for the magnetic field strength is simple, and it appears in all elementary physics books. This is a remarkable discovery and is the basis for DCX (or Luce-type) machines. If the hollow conducting cylinder has only a finite length. the field will be nearly uniform near its center lengthwise and along the axis, but diverging at the ends into the space outside the tube.

If ions are injected into a cavity like this, they will follow helical trajectories circling the magnetic lines of force. By increasing the electrical current density near the ends of the tube, you can make the lines pinch together before they diverge outside the cylinder’s ends. The pinched lines (sometimes called tubes of flux) serve as a “reflector” of ions traveling toward the ends of the cylinder. In DCX-2 the coils supplying the current surrounding the cylindrical cavity were to be in loops rather than smoothly along the cylindrical shell.

I considered the problem of an infinitely long cylinder consisting of equidistantly spaced discrete loops (wires) of current. I found an analytical solution to the problem. That showed that along the axis of the “lumped” circular currents there would be a ripple whose strength was evident by a simple formula, based on the spacing, radius, etc., of the loops. In finding the solution, I used a Fourier series technique, and in evaluating the coefficients of the series I found a really interesting trick that allowed me to solve the problem for the ripple’s amplitude. I was also able to find a mathematical means of extending the solution off the axis of the cylindrical geometry. I was so excited, that I had found this solution, my very first discovery in physics (well, actually engineering). All of my close mentors (Rankin, Fowler, and Mackin) were happy for me. I wrote a technical report, “Some Properties of Infinite, Lumped Solenoids,” ORNL-2975 (August 1960) that was distributed widely in the division and across ORNL. I made sure my advanced calculus professor, Dr. Walter Gautschi, was on the distribution list.

Soon after the publication was distributed, Dr. Gautschi called and wanted to see me. When we met, he congratulated me, but had to inform me that the fancy trick I discovered was known in Europe as the Poisson summation rule. He referred me to a calculus book written in German, by Ostrowski. I do not think I have ever seen it in an English language book. I found the book in the ORNL library. I felt bad that I was not the original discoverer. A legendary mathematician had scooped me by about two hundred years. Of course, Poisson did not have the magnetic field application in mind for use of his formula. Many years later I wrote the solution up and published it in the American Journal of Physics, acknowledging both Gautschi and Poisson (North, 1971). Gautschi was a wonderful teacher and eventually moved to be a professor at Purdue. He never told me, but I found out that Ostrowski was his doctoral advisor.

Soon afterwards my PhD colleagues invited me to be a coauthor on a paper to be published in the journal Nuclear Fusion. Appearing in 1962, this was my first paper to be published in a refereed journal. Dr. Wilhelm F. Gauster, one of the coauthors, followed my work on the magnetic field calculations. He was a German immigrant who came to the US after World War II. He was a towering man, with olive skin and bald, probably in his fifties at the time. His expertise was in magnetics, a specialty in applied physics. He worked out the optimal currents to be applied in the coils of DCX-2 to maximize the uniformity of the field. In the optimization process he used an eigenvalue method that I found to be especially elegant. He wanted me to stay at Oak Ridge and be his PhD student. By the time this was happening, I was already thinking of Wisconsin. I was going to be an elementary particles guy, not a magnetics guy.

DCX-2 finally was assembled and turned on. What would happen? As when the first hydrogen bomb was exploded in the Pacific, there was speculation that the entire atmosphere of the Earth might be ignited. That did not happen, but there was to be a tragic accident in our division. The “wires” that went into the coils of DCX-2 consisted of copper tubes of about 1 inch thickness and a square cross section covered with insulation, but the tubes were hollow so that cooling water could be circulated while the coils were carrying the current. Scientists were standing about during the big event. The chief engineering physicist for the project was standing nearby, and the magnetic forces of the coils were so large that one of the coil wires blew apart and like an uncoiling snake struck this man and killed him. Everyone was mortified by this tragedy, especially since the poor victim was such a nice young man. There was one other fatality in the division while I was at ORNL. An electrocution occurred in a physics laboratory during an experiment. Again, the victim was a nice man that I had known.

I received my BS degree in physics the very month that my report was published (August 1960). I had managed to get my degree in four years while the co-op program was expected to take five. Instead, I opted for the 32-hour week with night classes. My wife Jane was a year behind me, so I stayed on in the Thermonuclear Division for another year. During that year, I was to take two evening graduate courses in physics at UT facilities in the city of Oak Ridge. One was a mathematical physics course taught by Al Simon, one of my mentors in the Thermonuclear Division.

DCX-2 also failed to deliver the confinement of a plasma of high enough density and for sufficient duration to make fusion reactions or even neutrons from the nuclear collision of deuterium ions when the heavy hydrogen isotope was used in the ion beams. I think this might have ended the serious efforts at Oak Ridge for a fusion program. Mozelle and P. R. stayed on at the lab, while many other young physicists moved on. Bob Mackin moved to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and eventually became an executive there. His knowledge of plasmas applied nicely to the Earth’s outer atmosphere. I did get into email contact with him many years later, since I had a project at JPL, but the schedules of my visits there never worked out for us to meet. He did tell me that he followed my publications in Science with Tom Crowley, my paleoclimatology partner of the 1980s and 1990s. He expressed curiosity that the papers had no math in them. It was unusual because most of my papers have probably too much math in them.

In the summer of 1961, we left East Tennessee for the great unknown in Madison, Wisconsin, where Jane was to be admitted as a graduate student in psychology and I would begin work on my PhD in physics.



G. R. North, “Some Properties of Infinite, Lumped Solenoids,” ORNL-2975, Union Carbide Corporation, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, August 1960.

W. F. Gauster, G. G. Kelley, R. J. Mackin, Jr., and G. R. North, “Calculations of Ion Trajectories and Magnetic Fields for the Magnetic Trapping of High Energy Particles,” pp. 239–250, Nucl. Fusion Supplement, 1962.

G. R. North, “Solutions of Static Field Problems with Periodic Sources,” Am. J. Phys. 39, 370–372 (1971).

G. R. North and T. Erukhimova, Atmospheric Thermodynamics: Elementary Physics and Chemistry, Cambridge University Press, 2009.


[Editorial notes: According to his obituary in Physics Today, P. R. Bell was legally blind as a result of early-onset macular degeneration. He and Mozelle remained at Oak Ridge until 1967, when P. R. took a leave of absence to manage the Lunar Receiving Laboratory for NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. They returned to Oak Ridge in 1970. ORNL continued its fusion program following the termination of the DCX­‑2 experiment and now leads the U.S. contributions to the international ITER project, which is building the world’s largest tokamak in France.]