Stanley Ruby

A surprising but inevitable discovery

Allan Franklin is a physics historian and philosopher of science from the University of Colorado who specializes in the interdependency of theory and experiment in the advancement of scientific knowledge. It was his paper, "Are the Laws of Physics Inevitable?" (Perspectives in Physics, 2008), that I stumbled upon on my recent return trip from Los Angeles.

The excerpts were more than intriguing:

In 1953 Brice Rustad and Stanley Ruby carried out the most important of these angular correlation experiments on the β decay of He6

Although most of the evidence from β decay was consistent with a doublet VA [vector and axial] interaction, Rustad and Ruby's angular-correlation experiment on He6 provided seemingly conclusive evidence that the β decay was tensor (T).

Sudarshan and Marshak noted that four experiments stood in opposition to the V–A theory, as follows: (1) Rustad and Ruby's electron-neutrino angular-correlation experiments on  He6 ; (2) .... The first two cases were regarded as significant problems, whereas the second two had less evidential weight .... Sudarshan and Marshak suggested that "All of these experiments should be redone...."

Feynman and Gell-Mann went even further in regard to the experimental anomalies. "These theoretical arguments seem to the authors to be strong enough to suggest that the disagreement with the He6 recoil experiment and with some other less accurate experiments indicates that these experiments are wrong [emphasis added by Franklin.

Rustad and Ruby themselves, and [Chien-Shiung] Wu and Arthur Schwarzchild critically reexamined the Rustad-Ruby experiment.

Wu and Schwarzchild then constructed a scale model ten times larger than the Rustad-Ruby apparatus, making the inner walls of the source volume and collimating chimney highly reflecting.

They concluded, finally, that the corrected results "are more in favor of axial vector than tensor contradictory to the original conclusion." Their work thus cast doubt on Rustad and Ruby's original conclusion, and in a postdeadline paper that Rustad and Ruby presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society in January 1958, they agreed with that assessment.*

* There are no abstracts of postdeadline papers. Ruby remembers, however that the tone of their paper was mea culpa; private communication, 1989. 

Wow! I thought I knew a little bit about my father's career in physics but most of this information was coming as a complete surprise. Wu rang a bell. I remembered Stan, or maybe Helga, speaking of a kind of dragon lady Chinese physicist who Stan had worked with. (My earliest memories date to about 1957-8, when we were living in Pittsburgh and Stan was at Westinghouse Labs.) Feynman and Gell-Mann, of course, are both famous names and future Nobelists. Marshak sounded familiar too, but none of those in a way directly connected to Stan.

I was able to login to the UCLA proxy server on the train, and soon downloaded Franklin's paper as a pdf to my iPad. I ravenously read from the 30-page paper, starting with its intriguing opening opening line, "Are the laws of nature discovered or invented?" The introduction goes on to set up the scholarly distinction between social constructionists who believe that theory drives the scientific dialog and rationalists like Franklin to whom experiment is crucial.

To illustrate his argument, Franklin then devotes the rest of the paper recounting the 25-year history of theory and experiment leading to the acceptance of a unified theory of the weak nuclear force, from Enrico Fermi's first theoretical paper on beta decay in 1934 to the successful generalization in 1958 by two independent groups of a Unified Fermi Interaction with V–A coupling that was applicable to meson particle decays as well as beta decays.

Summarizing his argument, Franklin writes:

This history is not one of an unbroken string of successes, but rather one that includes incorrect experimental results, incorrect experiment-theory comparisons, and faulty theoretical analyses. Nevertheless, at the end of the story the proposal of the V–A theory will seem to be an almost inevitable outcome.

A regular comedy of errors, it seems. Then begins a fairly deep dive into nuclear physics as it was understood in the mid-1930s, shortly after the discovery of the neutron and the proposal of a more mysterious particle, the neutrino. I settle back for a challenging read for the next leg of the train trip through Merced, Fresno and Stockton. More in the next post.

A new chapter: Stanley Ruby, physicist

So far on this blog we have covered many aspects our family history: our father's family roots in the Russian Pale, the life of the illustrious Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor, Jewish life in Harlem and the Bronx, the rise of the American liquor industry in the 1930s, our mother's exodus from Germany and flight to America, the implementation of economic Aryanization in occupied France in the 1940s, and much more. It has been amazing to learn in some depth about these historical periods and events and how our family members' lives, and ours, were shaped by them.

We will now turn our attention to another rich subject that shaped our family and our times, nuclear physics in the postwar period, courtesy of our father Stanley Ruby, who returned home from WWII at age 22 to finish his education and start a career in that burgeoning field less than a year after the first atomic bombs had been exploded at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I will warn you that, unlike the histories that we have covered to date, this one will take us into some fairly difficult scientific terrain. I will do my best to make the material understandable to curious readers without dumbing it down entirely. As with the past episodes, we will see how our family member played a role in important historical events and how that involvement impacted his and our lives.

This story begins with a recent trip I made to visit Twyla and Zach at UCLA, where they are both pursuing graduate studies. Twyla's field of science history is near and dear to my own interests, and she graciously allowed me to sit in on several lectures in the class for which she is a teaching assistant this semester, an undergraduate survey of science history from the French Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union. The professor is Theodore Porter, an expert on the development of statistics and the social sciences in the 19th century. His approach is to understand the cultural, social and political contexts of science history.

I had been reading along with the syllabus since the beginning of the term and scheduled my visit to hear his lectures about science under National Socialism, both in life science (eugenics) and the physical sciences (the Nazi atomic project and V2 rocketry). Among the readings for the week was the play Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, in which a 1941 meeting between two physics greats, Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, forms the central focus. (I had seen the play together with Stan, Helga, Walter and Joanne when it ran in San Francisco in 2002.)  Twyla and I spent a good deal of time during my visit discussing interpretations of the play.

I could go on at length on this subject, but the important thing is that my visit left me thinking about the resurrection of German physics after the war. On my return train trip through California's central valley, I recalled that a number of my father's physics colleagues were German. The field that he worked in, exploring the so-called Mössbauer effect, was named for Rudolph Mössbauer, a physicist from Munich who discovered a form of nuclear resonance in 1958 and won the Nobel Prize in 1961.

Taking advantage of Amtrak's on-board Wifi service, I googled to find out if Mössbauer had been the first postwar German Nobel recipient. He was not—Walter Bothe, a participant in the German Uranium Club that became the Nazi atomic bomb project, and the developer of Germany's first cyclotron, won it in 1954, awarded together with Max Born, a Jewish physicist who had fled Germany before the war. After that, Mössbauer was the first.

This rumination led to more searches of various scientists I remembered from Stan's days at Westinghouse (Pittsburgh), Soreq (Israel) and Argonne (Chicago). Mike Kalvius was one who had visited our family a number of times, and I remembered he was also from Munich. I discovered that earlier this year he had co-edited a volume of historical papers celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mössbauer Nobel.

There are quite a few mentions of Stan in the The Rudolf Mössbauer Story, including in a chapter by Gopal Shenoy, another frequent guest in our home, where he credits Stan for the important suggestion that synchrotron radiation could be a useful replacement for nuclear sources in Mössbauer spectroscopy. That insight, delivered in a paper at the 1974 Mössbauer Conference in Paris, is thought to be Stan's most significant career accomplishment, since synchrotron sources were later shown to be practical and are now commonly used for Mössbauer studies in various fields. (We have previously posted a copy of Gopal's obituary of Stan in Hyperfine Interactions, in which wrote that "Stan will be best remembered for his proposal in 1974 to excite the 14.4 keV Mössbauer resonance in Fe57 using synchrotron radiation rather than a radioactive source to populate the nuclear excited state.")

As I was enjoying this trip down memory lane, I soon received a shock when I began to see references to earlier work by Stan that I had known nothing about. It involved an experiment he had performed at Brookhaven as a graduate student, and it seems something had gone wrong along the way. I'll explain more in the next post.

Selma Ruby census for 1940

Access to images of the 1940 census enumerations has just been made available though Ancestry and probably other sources. So far, the records are not searchable by name, but the actual enumeration sheets are browsable by population center.

So, I went to Long Beach in Nassau County NY and found six enumeration districts listed. Using Google Maps, I was able to figure that District 30-207 would include the section of West Walnut St. where the Ruby family resided. Clicking that link leads to 79 pages of image files, but I was lucky to find 138 West Walnut on just the third page. It is below.

 There's nothing very surprising here but interesting nonetheless. The enumeration date is April 3, 1940. Selma, age 40, is the head of household. The other household members are Stanley, son, 15, and Ruth Ratner, sister, 35. Selma is widowed, Stan and Ruth are single. Stan is an active student who has completed his third year of high school. (Is that right, or is he currently in his third year?) Selma and Ruth both finished four years of high school. All three were born in New York. All three have lived in the same home since 1935.

Selma and Stan are not in the work force because one is a homemaker and one a student. Ruth was employed full time as a stenographer for a book printing company and earned $1248 per year. Selma is the owner of the home at this address, and the home is valued at $15,000, which is the highest valued home on the page. Selma was not selected to be asked supplementary questions.

 Zach, as our resident census expert, do you see anything else that I may be missing? How does the 1940 enumeration form differ from the 2010 census you worked on? It seems surprising to me that they get income and home value/rent payment information for every citizen. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first year that used supplemental questions. It appears they are asked of everyone who falls on the 2nd or 6th line of an enumeration sheet, or five percent of all the names on a sheet.

 Click the image to enlarge. Our family members appear on lines 37-39.  

Wedding and engagement announcements

More on Stan and Helga's wedding. I did more NY Times searches today and found more Rabinowitz material. Here are two items relevant to the previous post: first a June 8, 1947 announcement of the wedding happening that same day, and then an April 7, 1946 announcement of Stan's previous engagement to Lorraine (who gets a last name—Sweedler—for the first time in our family narrative). Stan broke off his engagement with Lorraine before renewing his acquaintance with Helga.

Those who have read Walter's "Early Lives of Stan and Helga Ruby" manuscript will recall that after the breakup practical Stan sought a new girlfriend who lived within a 20 block radius of Selma's apartment on W. 73rd St. Helga was slightly outside that range but got the nod anyway.


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