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Interview with John Robinson Pierce

Pierce, John R. (1982) Interview with John Robinson Pierce. [Oral History]

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An interview in three sessions in April 1979 with John R. Pierce, often referred to as the father of the communications satellite. A leading applied physicist, Pierce went to work for Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1936 after receiving his PhD in electrical engineering from Caltech. He spent the next thirty-five years there, where he made important contributions to the development of the traveling-wave tube and the reflex klystron, rising to become executive director of Bell's Research-Communications Principles Division. Pierce was also a pioneer in communications satellites, playing a key role in the development of two of the earliest, Echo and Telstar. In this interview he recalls his undergraduate education at Caltech in the late twenties and early thirties, the early years at Bell, radar work during the war, and the beginnings of America's satellite program. Pierce was also a prolific author of science fiction, sometimes under the pen name J. J. Coupling. In the mid-1960s, he served on the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). He retired from Bell Labs in 1971 and returned to Caltech as a professor in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and he comments on the changes (and the similarities) he found in undergraduate education at Caltech. While at Bell, Pierce developed a lifelong interest in computer-generated music and psychoacoustics, the science of consonance and dissonance; in the latter part of the interview, he discusses his work with Max Mathews on music synthesis. A year after this interview was conducted, he became professor emeritus at Caltech, and in 1983 he joined Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) as a visiting professor. Pierce died on April 2, 2002, in Mountain View, California.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Electrical engineering; aerospace; science fiction
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Pierce_J
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Pierce, John R. Interview by Harriett Lyle. Pasadena, California, April 16, 23, and 27, 1979. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
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Subjects > Engineering
ID Code:98
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:23 Feb 2005
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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