Remarks at the First Annual New Jersey Science and Technology Medal Dinner

William O. Baker

December 9, 1980

(Acceptance speech on receiving medal.)


Participation in an event for the benefit of science and technology, or even for the recognition of science and technology as beneficial, is a rare but valued experience. Thus, regarding my own part, when I found that the New Jersey Research and Development Council's kind action was to be coupled with an event in support of a possible Science-Technology Center, I suggested alternative funding elements to those normally in vogue. Hence, for example, it was proposed that among bur industrial community at least, those who attended would get a discount compared to those who subscribed but were not required to be present. Further, I believe this tactic should be tore widely applied, for I have had significant signals from old friends and colleagues suggesting that in this case, at least, it might have worked. Accordingly, one associate of many years, wrote, touchingly, that he had considered coming but believed he would go to Japan instead. Indeed, those furthest removed from earshot should probably have to Pay the largest fee!

Another Appealing feature of this event is that one is functioning as a “poly-proxy.” This is a role only slightly less estimable than functioning, as do all living creatures, as polymers, a form of matter which has occupied one's attention for nearly half a century. But the “poly-proxy” comes from a much more socio-economic base. It simply is that I am standing here on behalf of not only the more than 1,000 score of people of Bell Laboratories, but also, in terms of the overall theme of this R&D Council and of our New Jersey community, on behalf of those in the AT&T, the Western Electric, and the Bell Operating companies, including especially the Bell Telephone of New Jersey. For they have actually brought our discoveries and developments to the marketplace and into use. From the laboratory to sales and usage is a long and torturous Pathway. Nothing brightens one's feelings of life in industry more than the opportunities we have had to work with those in our sponsoring and affiliated companies, who have made this economic utilization possible. So I am honored to be a proxy for all of them, including those present, Morry Tanenbaum, my long-time friend, former associate in the Labs, now a leader in AT&T, Don Procknow, my esteemed partner, President of the Western Electric, Bob Kleinert who heads our Long Lines, Rocky Marano, with whom I have shared many doings in his operations of the Bell System, which he now carries forward so skillfully as President of New Jersey Bell.

And then I am especially and warmly honored to be a proxy for my collaborators, more than that—my coactivators—in Bell Labs, epitomized by Ian Ross, who carry forward our visions and hopes for the future roles of science and technology in telecommunications and information resources. These visions and hopes rise evermore, as we see new realms of technology coming from the research to which one has been committed all these decades. Photonics is one example. For now the telegraphy of Morse and Vail, and all the elegant telephony of Bell, and the radio of Marconi, can be marshalled for the communications of mankind without sending signals through metallic conductors, or through a broadcast or open beam around the earth or from the sky. Rather, sending photons through insulators can do equivalent tasks.

And then I am a proxy also for those with whom we have worked to bring science and engineering to the support of our free Nation, and especially to the learning and training of our youth. Although the principal focus for those efforts has been in Washington, the government of New Jersey has not been lacking in those for whom I an privileged also to act as proxy. Ted Hollander, Chancellor of our Department of Higher Education, and Ed Bloustein, President of our great State University, are eminent leaders in education for science and engineering. And in this domain, the independent institutions, have vital parts—seen in Jerry Pollack of Fairleigh Dickinson, Rogers of Stevens, Hardin of Drew, Bowen of Princeton and more. In advancing our system of a score of community and liberal arts colleges and Rutgers, The State University, we have worked creatively with Governor Brendan Bryne. The Master Plan for higher education for the next decade now emerging will stand as strong measure of combined efforts in the citizen and professional sectors. (Similarly, in other technical areas such as capital resources for the State, including especially the situation of water supply we have served this mission, and in matters of environment, including cancer control, have been glad to be able to assure our Governor and Commissioner English that being in New Jersey is not “hazardous to health”.)

So this illustrious assembly is not about me or even thee. It is about New Jersey and the environment that it has now, and has had for three centuries. The conditions for living and working have made it presently the site of more than 700 industrial research and development laboratories, aided by more than a quarter hundred colleges and universities, teaching and studying science and technology. And there are things worth knowing about life and work in this community. Our program planners and Board of Directors of the R&D Council, and the Advisory Board for The New Jersey Science and Technology Center identified this event as recognizing “the world-wide. impact of science and technology.” They could have been thinking of John Fitch's steamboat of 1785, operating on the Delaware, and the railroad engines of John Stevens at Castle Point. He virtually established the U. S. Patent system in 1790, by his steam boiler invention for which a patent was granted in 1791. Various boats were built using it. By 1825, having failed to find financial support before, he had also built a demonstration locomotive on a 200 foot diameter track at Castle Point. Some railroads in England had been working for a couple of decades, but his was the first working locomotive in the New World and was an advanced pattern for all.

Now if the impact of technology around the world had to be extended beyond steamboats and the railroad, where should one look? New Jersey provided a fine follow-on. It came in many forms with materials, such as Seth Boyden’s patent leather and malleable pig iron of 1827, the Hyatt Brothers celluloid, (that they had actually conceived in work in Albany, New York), their water filtration process, and a Hyatt roller bearing company in 1891 which exists in Harrison nowadays.

And already this “world impact” theme took an interesting form: the railroad and the steamboat brought people together and transported goods. In 1837, Samuel F. B. Morse made a recording telegraph, and Alfred Vail went to work in an iron works in Morristown to improve it. He adapted it in the best technological, engineering and developmental traditions of the way New Jersey has treated invention and scientific discovery.

And that telegraph brought Edison in 1869 to New Jersey, which once more fostered an era of discovery and creativity. From this form of inventive activity, both Alexander Graham Bell's Laboratory in Washington and the General Electric Research Laboratory were both patterned. So how then does one follow that act? What circumstances kept things going through to this last quarter of the 20th Century? And they did keep going, through Joseph Henry’s great insight about electricity and magnetism at Princeton, moving on to a post-Edison world of electro-technology. Nor were organisms neglected, for at Rutgers, the agriculture technology of George H. Cook, Street and Voorhees was succeeded by Jacob Lipman, first dean of the Agriculture College, whose soil studies in microbiology were the genesis of Selman Waksman's enrollment in Rutgers in 1911. Waksman went forward to win the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for the discovery of streptomycin in 1952. The first synthetic vitamin B1, created by our Bell Labs colleague Robert R. Williams, was developed and moved into an era of pharmaceuticals, and disease-limiting biological chemistry, by the Merck Laboratories. This firm and their distinguished contemporaries in New Jersey now provide an unsurpassed aggregation of pharmaceutical and drug laboratories and producers, serving humanity around the world.

Now these are but inadequate samples of a host of events which profoundly influenced those who have lived and learned in this state. Studying in the mid-Thirties at Princeton, with the world approaching war and in the depths of an economy with 25% unemployed, who could fail to be inspired by the sight of Professor Shull of Princeton biology faculty, with hoe in hand, straw hat on head, going down to his experiments? These would result in hybrid corn of productivity to keep quarters of the world above starvation! Who could fail to respond to the probing, softly-uttered queries of Einstein, attending Robertson's physics seminars on cosmology in the Palmer Laboratory? Who could fail to be excited by the view of Wendell Stanley and Northrup boarding the bus to the Rockefeller Institute, on what is now the Forrestal Campus, where Stanley was isolating the viruses which mark the border between the living and the dead?

But this is only one subjective view of what has happened in these centuries of New Jersey. I submit all this has combined to make each generation feel that more could be done, that great frontiers lay forever and forever beyond the known. That's what this fathering is about, to remind us of how the particular qualities of this region, of its people, its institutions, its government, have combined to advanced learning and discovery, education and invention and of course employment and human benefit.

I submit only the empirical results of this anthropology and environment; the sociologists and behaviorist's of the future world would need to explain its mechanism. Through four generations of our family here, and more than four decades of one's work in its science and technology, its industry and education, one is led to believe that a certain informality, a certain intimacy, a certain human scale of the geographic and climatic pretensions, have helped in this era of New Jersey's science and engineering.

What we are saying here is that there are such things, they need to be recognized, and above all preserved and extended, We have had the privilege in these years since 1939 of helping to bring in thousands of the nation's and the world's most talented scientists and engineers. They have augmented New Jersey's role and certainly the world impact of their professions. What we are saying this evening is that certain ways of working together, certain joining of personal and academic, industrial and governmental, efforts have been important. We are to our surprise finding that sociological interactions seem to be a major portion of Japanese productivity and labor collaboration. The situation in research and development is more complex but not incomparable.

We've lost, nationally, some of the adventure, the risk taking, the game playing, the informality which we are finding so necessary for creativity. It seems that institutionalization buries ingenuity, if it is allowed to. Our major endeavor in these four decades has been to build institutions which are necessarily larger and larger, to deal with the ever greater dimensions of service to our nation, but at the same time to assure in those institutions elements of collaboration, of cooperation, of co-working which are evermore intimate and personalized. Thus we stimulate rather than repress creativity. Now that is the whole essence of our meeting here. It is to remind us that New Jersey has for three centuries offered opportunities for this dualism of size and individualism in its science and technology and in its education and learning. It is dualism of the larger sophisticated community, which is built on the small, the intimate humanity. Let us resolve, as the people of our nation seen to have said they would on November 4, to assure that these institutions serve and do not become the masters, relate but do not become the substance, by which people live.

Although New Jersey has been said to exist mostly to separate New York and Philadelphia, great metropolitan resources of which we are deeply proud, we submit that it connects them. It connects them with an essence of informal but enterprising provincialism. This has, from Colonial times, recognized that away from a big city, people had to know how to work together, to share ideas, to cultivate a community of interest, in which, nevertheless, the individuals stood out. It was a kind of Yankee New England ideal, (Boston/Cambridge have it) facilitated by less forbidding landscape and climate than sustained by our Puritan forebears.

This is generally the sociology into which a most urban N.Y. laboratory ventured to set up a small group in Summit and one at Deal/Holmdel in the 1930's and from which Bell Labs then evolved into Murray Hill, Whippany, Holmdel, Crawford Hill, Chester, now Plainfield, West. Long Branch, Short Hills and elsewhere. Concordant with the ideas of environment we have cited, William Shocklev and others of us initiated a seminar on the solid state in the late-Thirties. Because of unscheduled hours, evening access, informality of structure, this group gathered in Summit, despite Bell Laboratories block-square headquarters on West Street, New York City, where already a Nobel Prize had recognized Davisson's and Germer's proof of the wild surmise in quantum mechanics by Einstein and Sommerfeld, Heisenberg and Bohr. Davisson and Germer showed that particles could be waves and electrons could be diffracted.

The evolution of this chronicle henceforth we see among us here. For we then, in New Jersey, moved to the work of a new era, a study in which the science of solids, the skills of mathematicians and engineers in information and communications techniques, the insight of Nyquist, Hartley and Shannon into how human knowledge can be encoded and transmitted, have all come together in our research and development. In these ways, since the mid-Century have been pursued especially in New Jersey the responsibilities for science and engineering to lead America into an information and communication society.

And it is said by means of the incisive and worthy scaling of academies and professional and scholarly societies, that even in this field alone, which only a part of what is undertaken in New Jersey science and technology, the world has been changed by what was done. In this time beyond Davisson's beginning, six members of Bell Laboratories have received Nobel Prizes, as well as a seventh, Professor Charles Townes, for his discovery at Murray Hill and Arthur Schawlon, of the laser, when, however, Townes was also a Professor of Physics at Columbia University.

These more evident recognitions are attended by scores of more specialized ones. Their interesting property is not the identification of individual brilliant work, although that is the primary import. Rather it is that this work h as been turned steadily and extensively to human use, through industry's service in communications. The way this was done was through the apparatus and systems produced by the Western Electric Company from development and designs of people in Bell Laboratories with the support of AT&T company/Bell System. They were ones who understood and extended and applied the scientific discoveries we have noted.

So here we have in this room a micro cosmos of the community that we celebrate this evening. The award action of the Research and Development Council of New Jersey mentions things like executive leadership. Those are large words for simply saying that some of us have been able to work together these many decades in this environment of New Jersey. The way you have chosen to characterize whatever we have done happens because hundreds and thousands of our fellow scientists and engineers have been willing to come here from all over the world. When Ian Ross left Gonvill and Caius College of Cambridge University, the masters there may have thought that the wild Indians of New Jersey might interrupt yet another promising British career. But he soon enhanced the objectives and actions we were taking to try to provide new technical ways of organizing business and society, augmenting the economy and the national security by extending the telecommunications begun by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. And so it is with the hundreds of others with whom one has been privileged to work in our mission. Their names and Persons, too many to list, yet stand out vividly in one's life treasures. And so there is a particular dualism about this first award of the Research and Development Council, after three centuries of science and technology in New Jersey. It recognizes that discoveries come from individuals, but that institutions should bring them together without supplanting or submerging them. And then it says that discoveries and developments can serve all, through the marketplace. They can lighten our lives while lifting our souls, through worldwide electrical communion, through easing of illness, through shifting the burdens from muscles to machines, through adding to food and shelter, to clothing and comfort.

So you see that industrial research and development is not so much management as partnership, not so much supervision as leadership, which helps us altogether do what has never been done before, and to view the meanings of nature as they have not earlier been seen.