Letters to the Editor

More Drosophila dons

Spring 2019.jpg

The article on Drosophila research [“A Fruitful Collaboration,” Spring 2019] fails to take note of my undergraduate biology teacher Professor George Beadle, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958 together with Tatum and Lederberg, based in part on his earlier work on the development of eye pigment in Drosophila.

We undergrads thought that was a big deal! He was also an excellent teacher.

S. Gill Williamson (BS ’60)

Turtle tale

I just got around to reading the Summer 2018 edition of Caltech magazine (yes, I’m way behind on my reading). It’s a wonderful issue and great reading, as usual.

I was particularly impressed with the article on “Fictional Caltech,” and how many very well-known novels talk about Caltech.

I was also intrigued by the “Endnotes” section and several rather clever book titles and first lines. I didn’t see my entry, but that’s no surprise: you must receive hundreds of responses to your requests for alumni input. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I certainly quoted the actual title and first line of my actual (children’s) book centered around Caltech: Katy’s Astonishing Adventures with Tortulus T. Turtle.

It made me wonder how many novels have been written by Caltech graduates centered around life at Caltech. 

Gerald Ash (MS ’65, PhD ’69) 

Building Keck

The “Building Keck: An Oral History” article [Winter 2019] brought back an old memory of mine.

Back in the mid-1970s, as undergraduates, Ken Severin (’78) and I … were browsing around Robinson and came upon a file cabinet in the hallway. Inside the cabinet were hundreds of large manila cards, each about 14 x 18 inches. On the cards were drawings of a circular item with myriad notes and details handwritten in pencil. They were dated. They were old. It was plain they were construction logs for the Hale Telescope mirror! Right there in a cabinet in the hallway! We could flip through days and weeks of events, following the grinding out of cracks and imperfections. We could almost feel the fear in the handwriting as cracks grew and the relief as they disappeared.

We returned on another night, partly just to relive the excitement. But then there were midterms, then projects, and eventually Commencement. I returned years later when I was a graduate student, but the cabinet was gone. No one in nearby offices had any idea what had happened to it. Many times I wondered whether or not those notes had been discarded and if, perhaps, I was the last to view them and to appreciate the personal touch in those handwritten notes. 

Steve Trimberger (BS ’77, PhD ’83)

The first interest in a large telescope started at the annual meeting, in 1959, of three astronomy departments, Berkeley, UCLA, and Lick Observatory. I was then on the faculty at Berkeley. Otto Struve suggested that the University of California look into building a 200-inch telescope. We agreed that Lick should take the lead.

A site survey within the state was initiated by Merle Walker (and in Australia by Bob O’Dell). One peak of about 5,000-feet altitude in the coast range and a 14,000-foot peak east of Bishop looked the best, but the weather in the coastal range was recognized to be rather cloudy, and there were significant access problems due to dirt roads and snow in eastern California. We were aware that many years ago Gerard Kuiper had called attention to the summit of Maunakea as a likely infrared site because of its altitude and location south of the usual Pacific storm track. Leadership of the project was taken up by Robert Kraft, of Lick. He was very effective in getting the campuses together and getting the support of the administration of the University of California.

George Wallerstein (PhD ’58)