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Reflections on Ernest Lawrence

HEFNER: How were you treated by all the physicists? Were you a welcome[d] group?
GOFMAN: Yes, I think we were a very welcomed group. When I did the work on heart disease, I needed a lot of subjects to get blood, do some studies. Not with radioactivity, but with vitamins, things like that. We were trying to influence by blood lipoproteins. There were all kinds of people in Rad Lab who volunteered to be subjects in our work. We were very enthusiastic.

We received, in the early years, like 1950, one or two invitations. I was invited up the hill to give a talk at the Physics Colloquium. There were about 250 people. There I had to talk on the lipoproteins and heart-[you] get an idea on what the quality of the leadership of that lab was with Ernest Lawrence there.

I figured that physicists would know about the optical system of the ultracentrifuge, and I wasn't about to try and explain it. So, I went over that very lightly. At the end of my lecture, a voice in the back of the room said, "John, I don't understand the optical system." It was Ernest Lawrence. [There were] 200 scientists there and Ernest Lawrence. He was such an unassuming guy. So I went a little bit [over] the equations. He said, "John, I still don't understand, but I'll come down and see you about it." [I thought,] "He's never going to come down and see me about this thing."

About two weeks later, I was sitting in my office about 5:30 in the afternoon doing some work. Ernest Lawrence sticks his head in the door, and said, "I'd like to see that optical system in the ultracentrifuge." We went back, took off the cover, took off all the housing, and went through it from beginning to end. He said, "Oh, of course. How's the work going?" I said, "It's going well, but we sure could use another ultracentrifuge." They then cost $16,000. He said, "Come up to my office next week."

I did go up; called his secretary for an appointment and I got up there and went in to see Wally Reynolds, who was the business manager in the Rad Lab. Ernest said, "Wally, John needs another ultracentrifuge." Wally said, "It's not [in] the budget; you don't have the funds for it." Ernest said again, "John needs another ultracentrifuge, Wally. Get it." And I got it.

Ernest Lawrence, if he thought you were sincere and were doing worthwhile work, it didn't matter whether it was high-energy physics, low-energy physics, or medicine. If you were working in his lab and he thought you were doing something useful, there was nothing too good for you in way of facilitation of your work. Anything I didn't accomplish on my work was nobody's fault at Rad Lab but myself. Because I just have to say that with Ernest Lawrence's backing, I just had the royal carpet laid out for me to do work.

John Francis Neylan was the chairman of the board of regents, and Ernest brought him down. Ernest loved to tell the story about the heart disease and exactly what everything meant. He'd give a better lecture on it than I could. We studied John Francis Neylan's blood, and Neylan would then bring other visitors down to see. Berkeley Rad Lab in those days, being a part of it, especially with Ernest, was fantastic.

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