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Interview with Milton S. Plesset

Plesset, Milton S. (1984) Interview with Milton S. Plesset. [Oral History]

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Interview in 1981 with Milton S. Plesset (1908-1991), Professor of Engineering Science, Emeritus. Begins with Plesset's decision to study physics at the U. of Pittsburgh; PhD in physics at Yale [1932] on Dirac electron theory. Postdoctoral fellowship brings him to Caltech that year to work under P. Epstein. Recalls giving theoretical physics seminar which Einstein attended on day of Long Beach earthquake [March 10, 1933]; records story of Einstein and B. Gutenberg in conversation and unaware of the quaking. Importance of J. R. Oppenheimer to American theoretical physics in early 1930s; his early collaboration with Oppenheimer on Dirac electron theory. R. A. Millikan's interest in this work in connection with cosmic rays. Year spent in Copenhagen at Niels Bohr Institute as National Research Council fellow [1933-1934]. Returns to U.S. to teach at U. of Rochester; meets L. A. DuBridge there. Returns to California 1941 to do wartime work at Douglas Aircraft Co.; beginning of interest in fluid mechanics. Sent by Douglas to Europe following German surrender to investigate German rocketry [1945]. Return to Pasadena to work on torpedo hydrodynamics at Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS). Hired at Caltech [1948] as associate professor of applied mechanics; begins research in hydrodynamics and cavitation. Serves on Air Force Science Advisory Board (started by T. von Kármán). Recalls McCarthy era at Caltech; cases of H-S. Tsien, Oppenheimer. Interest in nuclear energy leads to 1959 advisory appointment to California Atomic Energy Development and Radiation Protection Program; also membership on Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; discussion of nuclear safety in connection with Three Mile Island reactor incident. Becomes professor of engineering science [1963]. In closing notes special admiration for Epstein, along with Oppenheimer and R. Tolman; cultural value of Epstein's "stammtisch."

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Engineering, applied mechanics, nuclear engineering
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Plesset_M
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Plesset, Milton S. Interview by Carol Bugé. Pasadena, California, December 8, 1981. 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:127
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:07 Jun 2007
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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